Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos and Your Very Young Child
by Carol Castanon
Secure Beginnings Parent Consultant
There are many cultures which celebrate or remember those who are no longer with us. There is a history of ancient ceremonies symbolizing and warding off bad ghosts, while other rituals honored those that were holy. The word Halloween comes from hallowed, or those that are holy. Dia de Los Muertos is not Halloween, but rather a tradition celebrated in Mexico, and in parts of Latin America and Spain. It means “Day of the Dead.” It honors the dead with celebrations by family and friends. It is said that the spirit world opens at this time, whereby we can be reunited with those that have passed.
These two holidays are back to back on the calendar and might be confused as having the same intention. They are both celebratory, including sweets, colorful masks, skeletons, skulls and costumes. But they are unique to their different cultural origins. Both have roots in faith, but have for some morphed into secular celebrations. They are both holidays which can ignite a flurry of excitement for adults and children.
Sometimes, the holidays enjoyed by adults and older children
can be felt very differently by the youngest of little ones.
Babies, toddlers, and very young children are literal. They know what is the same and different, familiar and strange.They are typically comfortable with what is known and this is particularly true with attachment figures like Mama and Papa, Abuela and Abuelo, or Tia and Tio.
Very young children might know the difference between real and pretend, but “it” can nevertheless be too scary for them to manage. They might hear faith-based language but not have the capacity to reflect on spiritual verses earthly. They may feel frightened in the company of masks and skeletons. Young children might not have the emotional and cognitive development to manage these worries. Remember they are relatively new to this world.
The littlest of children may not be able to navigate these holidays with the fullest of pleasure. So, what might an excited adult do?
Below is a list of ideas which advocate for the very young:
Remember to ask children if they want to dress-up or have their face painted. This gives them the respectful options of choosing what they want with their bodies. Sometimes their yes is quickly followed by a no or vice a versa. This might mean a child is not sure and they need more time or information to make their decision. Either way toddlers change their mind frequently!
Observe your young child, because your child will tell you how they feel about rituals, decorations and costumes. Some children might be sensitive to the sounds of these holidays, too loud or too scary. Other children might not feel as affected. It is for you to know so you can honor the child you have.
Dress-up and costume play is a way for children to practice pretending with masks and decorations. You and your little ones can take masks on and take them off. It is a kind of play about going away and coming back. Costumes can be held, touched and explored before they are worn. You might say, “Papa is dressed as a tiger but he is still your Papa! Mama is wearing a wig, and she is still your Mama!”
Face painting in anticipation of costume or dress-up holidays will help prepare your little one for noticing what is the same and different. Use a mirror so children can see themselves before and after their face is painted.
Altars might be offered for children to both see as well as help create. During Dia de Los Muertos altars are created to place offerings to deceased loved ones and usually include photographs too. The idea is that there are ornaments or artifacts representing something important, and this gives you and your little one the opportunity to chat about it!
Photos are a lovely way for children to see themselves in the moment and in reflection. Of course, they are also important ways to remember your loved ones.
Books are a pleasurable and fun way for children to explore their world and the world of others. You can make your own books, or you might have them in your library. When a book resonates with a child they will want to see and hear it repeatedly. See if you can pinpoint what your child is most interested in and why this might be so.
Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are different holidays. As you celebrate Halloween and/or Dia de los Muertos this year, you can take care to create emotional safety that honors the stage of development and temperament of your unique little one.