Best Podcasts for Kids

Logos for 9 kids podcasts

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time hearing my kids’ little voices from the back seat as I drive. And when they try to strike up a conversation while I’m focusing on driving, I have a hard time following it and we both get frustrated. So, I love using car time to listen to something together which is entertaining and/or educational. When my older kids were little in the late 90’s, we listened to Boomerang audio magazine (you can still purchase recordings of this), Broadway shows and kids’ music. As they moved into their tween and teen years, we shared the experience of listening to audiobooks together, which helped us connect. These days, with my youngest, we listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you’re not familiar with what a podcast is, check out my post on Podcasts 101.)

Benefits of Podcasts

  • Free. There are lots of great podcasts you can listen to for free.
  • Portable. Can listen to anywhere – at home while doing art or Legos, in the car on the way to school, on an airplane, or at the dentist’s office.
  • Screen free distraction. We all know there are times where parents just need a few minutes to themselves to get something done. We may be in the habit of turning to screens for this, but audio is also a good option.
  • Educational. Kids can learn about science, history, ethics and more.
  • Learning benefits. Listening to podcasts trains them to listen closely and builds vocabulary. If they read along with a transcript while listening, it can help build their reading proficiency. Audio allows them to visualize ideas in their head, unlike videos. And:

When words are spoken aloud, kids can understand and engage with ideas that are two to three grade-levels higher than their reading level would normally allow. Aural learning is particularly helpful for students who have dyslexia, are blind, or for whom English is their second language, who might struggle with reading or find it helpful to follow a transcript while listening. source – see also http://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-aloud-build-comprehension

Potential Pitfalls

  • Ads. Some podcasts have no ads. Some have ads that kids can tell are ads. But many have a host reading the ad, which makes them more powerful for kids and may distract from the main point of the podcast.
  • Inappropriate content. Many podcasts NOT kid appropriate. (I’ve definitely had times where I was with my son and I was listening to one of my podcasts that suddenly went somewhere not suitable for young ears!) You can consider using a specialized kids-only podcasting app to be sure everything’s appropriate.

How to Listen

You could use Stitcher, Pocket Casts, Spotify, or whatever app you prefer. Since we always listen in the car using my iPhone, I use Apple Podcasts for all of the podcasts my son listens to. However, if you want your child to be able to manage their own podcast listening on their own device, you might choose a kid-only app such as:

  • Kids Listen. iOs app: or listen online at https://app.kidslisten.org/search. On the app, you can choose from these categories: Seasonal Sweeps (collections of episodes on a seasonal theme), Brand New, Dive into the World of Books, Curl up with a Story, Jump Into a [Serial] Adventure, Explore your Curiosity (mostly science shows), Meet Cool People (Interviews), Launch Your Imagination, or my favorite “Starter Episodes” where several podcasts suggest the episode they think is best for you to listen first. You can also create a “stash” of episodes you’ve downloaded to listen to. They have 30+ member podcasts, including several of those listed below. Curated by a grassroots organization of podcasters, parents, teachers, and listening advocates. It is free to download, and you get the most recent episodes for free. There’s a monthly subscription fee for those who want access to archives of older episodes.
  • Leela Kids. iOS and Android. Free. You select kids age (3-5, 5-8, 8-12, 12-15) and interest (e.g. stories, music, animals, space, ocean, dinosaurs, math, science, religion, language learning, “curious”) then browse through options. For example, I searched for science for age 5 -8 and got episodes from Wow in the World, Tumble, Fun Kids Science Weekly, Sid the Science Kid, Brains On, Surgery ABCs, and Show about Science. (There were 147 episodes in the category, which is a little overwhelming to scroll through, but certainly plenty of content!) You can also subscribe to and download favorite shows. The Free app includes visual ads in the app and allows up to 3 downloads, up to 3 items in playlist, and up to 3 subscribed shows. The paid premium subscription has no ads and unlimited downloads, items, and shows.
  • Pinna Children’s Audio Stories. iOS. $7.99 per month. Age 4 – 12. Audio stories, podcasts, and audio games categorized by age, genre, listening setting (travel, family time, bedtime), and more. Includes exclusive content. To search audio content by age, choose your kid’s age range from the top menu bar (4-5, 6-8, or 9-12). To choose by content type, scroll down to view selections: Featured, Pinna Originals, Activities, Popular, Audiobooks, or Genres. Genres include classics, adventure, animals, fairy tales, science, and more.

What to Listen To

Story Podcasts

Stories Podcast. Writer Daniel Hinds and narrator Amanda Weldin tell lovely, engaging stories, often with catchy little songs included. Some are original, many are based on classic fairy tales from around the world. We love listening to these on the way to school. Can range from 10 – 12 minutes, or there are some that are told over the course of multiple episodes, but we haven’t tried these yet. Best for ages 5 and up.

Sparkle Stories. Original audio stories. Some fairy tales, some cultural tales. My favorite stories are the ones featuring two kids named Martin and Sylvia. Only a few episodes are available broadly, but if you like them, you can access 875 (!) Sparkle stories on their app. OK for age 4 and up, best 6 – 8.

Story Pirates. Kids write short silly stories, and then adult actors and comedians build them into full stories and act them out, sketch comedy or musical theater style. Silly and wacky. Appeals to kids 4 and up.

Here’s some podcasts that we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve seen many recommendations for.

Little Stories for Tiny People. Around 10 minutes. Mostly whimsical tales about animals. For toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime or anytime.

Peace Out Calming stories that teach mindfulness and meditation and help children calm down at the end of the day. Episodes include breathing exercises and visualizations on feelings like jealousy, anxiety and fear. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Story Time. 10 – 15 minute original bedtime stories, told in a soothing British accent by host Rob Griffiths. Best for preschool / early elementary.

Circle Round. (NPR) Story-telling for age 3 – 10. 10 – 20 minute episodes of carefully-selected folktales from around the world. Topics such as inclusivity, kindness, persistence and generosity.

If you like stories, be sure to also check out my posts on Books Toddlers Love and Books About Inventors.

Science Podcasts

Tumble – A Science Podcast for Kids. They tell stories about science discoveries with the help of scientists. They both address interesting topics and try to get kids excited about science by interviewing scientists who share their passions. 8 – 15 minutes. Age 6 – 12

Brains On. Episodes are 25 – 35 minutes long. Each week a different kid joins host Molly Bloom and they interview scientists. Answers questions from kid listeners using science and history. Listeners also submit “mystery sounds” which are played early in the episode and described late in the episode. Age 6 – 12.

Wow in the World. (NPR) Science education show on the latest STEM news by Guy Raz from NPR and Mindy Thomas. Professionally produced, so great soundscapes. They have a schtick where Mindy suggests wild and crazy ideas and Guy is the voice of reason – I find it tiresome, but my son loves it. And the science content is excellent.

But Why. 18 – 45 minute episodes. Each episode takes on several questions submitted by kids, tied to a single theme, and answers them with the help of experts. (We haven’t tried it yet, but reviews say it’s good for kids who aren’t ready for Brains On.)

If you like science and are looking for fun science experiments and engineering projects to try with your child, check out my other site, www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

Other Educational

The Past and the Curious. Comedic actors perform little-known stories from history, aiming to make them inspiring, amazing, and relevant to everyone. Ends with a quiz segment. Professional music scores and original songs.

Dream Big. 15 – 20 minutes. 8 year old host and her mom interview celebrities and award winning experts. Inspires kids to pursue their passions and make their dream a reality.

Silly Podcasts

This Podcast Has Fleas. (NPR) Waffles, a dog, starts a podcast and so does her rival Jones, a cat. There’s also Benny the Gerbil and Mr. Glub the Goldfish. There’s only 6 – 8 episodes. We listened when my son was 6 and he LOVED them and wanted to listen over and over again to each. (And today at age 8, when I mentioned this podcast, he wanted to listen to them again.)

What If World. Listeners call in with questions, which Eric O’Keefe writes original stories in response to. Describes in imaginative detail answers to questions like “What if Elephants Were Alive?” We listened to the “What If I Turned into a Hamburger” episode and enjoyed it.

The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd. We’re looking forward to trying this one, where Dr. Floyd tries to fend off his evil nemesis while learning about history, geography and science. Old time radio in style.

Music Podcasts

I haven’t tested any of these, but here’s what many sites recommend:

Ear Snacks. Songs and discussions with kids and experts. Best for preschool to early elementary.

Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. “Indie music for indie kids.” Music aimed at kids (Moona Luna, Ella Jenkins, Lunch Money, Caspar Babypants, and They Might Be Giants) and kid-friendly tracks from The Ramones, Mike Doughty, Ella Fitzgerald, Brian Eno, Pizzicato Five, Fishbone, and more.

OWTK’s Kids Music Monthly. Out with the Kids playlist, including the Not-It’s, Recess Monkey, Dan Zanes, Alphabet Rockers and More.

Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl – 2 full hours of kid’s music that’s smart, funny, and interesting.

More Recommendations

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Podcasts 101

Logos from recommended podcasts

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like radio on demand. So, unlike the days when you had to turn on your radio at noon on Sunday to hear your favorite show, you can now listen anytime anywhere. In the car or on the bus, folding laundry or packing lunches, on long walks or while working out. When internet is available and when it’s not.

What are podcasts about?

Everything. Sports, news, psychology, pop culture, trivia, history, music, movies, science, fashion, religion, wellness, economics – if people like to talk about it, there’s a podcast about it. Some feature a host doing a monologue on a topic of interest to them. Some are 2 – 4 hosts discussing a topic – like a movie reviews podcast. Some feature a host interviewing experts in the field. Many may feel similar to talk radio or TV talk shows. There are stand-up comedy podcasts. There are also lots of story-telling podcasts or radio theatre podcasts, where a story might be told in a single episode, or might be serialized over many episodes for many years.

How do podcasts work?

Podcasters upload recordings to the internet, and you can use a variety of apps to access them. You can stream content live over an internet connection (on your desktop computer at home, on your laptop WiFi at a coffee shop, or using the cellular data on your phone) or you can download to your phone or other mobile device so you can listen any time without needing internet access.

What does it cost to listen?

Most podcasts are free. Many podcasters get no financial compensation for their work, some use a system like Patreon to collect donations from listeners, and some have commercial sponsors, so they’ll run 30 second to two minute “ads” for their sponsors. For many podcasts, this ad consists of the host riffing about their sponsor’s product, saying whatever random thoughts come to mind each week. They can be entertaining – but, when the “ad” comes on one of my weekly podcasts, I just tap the “fast forward 30 seconds” button 4 times to skip it. (Sorry to Casper Mattress, Hello Fresh, and Harry’s Razors – I do appreciate your sponsorship of podcasts I listen to, I promise!)

Who makes podcasts?

Podcasts range hugely. There are some slick professional productions by major media corporations, but there’s plenty that are recorded around someone’s kitchen table. I’ve heard podcasters get interrupted by police sirens going by, crying kids, cats knocking their coffee off the table and more. Some podcasts are made by some top experts in their field. But the majority are made by amateurs who have day jobs but podcast about their passions. There is a wide range of quality – sometimes I have sought out “expert advice” in an area I knew little about, and then discovered that I knew more than the person making the podcast! (When we were prepping for a trip to Disneyland, I checked out lots of podcasts for tips and trivia, and wow, there’s a broad range of skill and knowledge amongst Disney podcasters.)

One thing that makes podcasts different than, for example, a weekly show on NPR, is that the podcasters may let their personalities shine through more and share more of their personal experiences and opinions than they would on a radio show. I have some podcasts I’ve listened to every week for years, and know their in-jokes (like why Devindra on /Filmcast can finally understand Interstellar) and know when they got a new dog (like Linda Holmes on Pop Culture Happy Hour and Sam Sanders from NPR Politics and It’s Been a Minute.) Sitting down and listening to the podcasts can feel a little like dropping in on old friends.

Where / How do I listen?

There are a few podcasts that are only available on one platform – you have to go to their website or their app to listen. But the majority are available on lots of different platforms. If you have an iOS device, Apple podcasts is the default option, and it works well. (Though some recommend Pocket Casts when you’re ready for more options.) For Android, there are multiple options. The most common recommendations are: Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and BeyondPod. Plus NPR One for all things NPR. More recommendations.

On each of these apps, you can search for shows, get recommendations, and read reviews. You can choose to listen to just a single episode of a podcast, or you can subscribe to your favorite shows so you’ll get notified when there’s a new episode (or you can set it to download automatically every time a new episode is released.)

What should I listen to?

There are so many choices that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2014, Slate wrote about The Top 25 Podcast Episodes of All Time. Time Magazine offered their recommendations on 50 Best Podcasts (2017), the Guardian’s 50 Podcasts You Need to Hear (2016), and here’s Esquire’s 20 Best Podcasts of 2017. NPR has a “podcast concierge” at earbud.fm – they crowd-sourced recommendations from over 6000 people, and pared the options down to 228 episodes (including some NPR shows and many that aren’t).

I’ll just share a few examples from what I listen to, but this is only a snapshot of the options available and may tell you as much about my own personal quirks as it does about the world of podcasting.

  • Round table discussions of pop culture topics (typically the same hosts each week)
    • Pop Culture Happy Hour. An NPR podcast where the hosts discuss current movies, TV, books, music, and more.
    • /Filmcast. Each week, they discuss “What We’ve Been Watching” (on TV and movies) and review one movie in depth. I’ve been listening weekly for years, and when I hear the theme song start playing, it just makes me happy! Each summer they have the Summer Movie Wager where they bet on what will be the top grossing movie of the summer, and you can play along. I was probably irrationally pleased at the fact that for most of the summer I was beating all the hosts.
    • Still Processing was great. Till they stopped releasing podcasts in August with no warning. It featured two African-American culture writers for the New York Times. Hopefully they’ll return.
    • I’m currently binging This Is Us from NBC, and I’m really enjoying also binging on two related podcasts: This is Us with Kei & Clyde, and This is Us Too, which both just feature a married couple chatting about one of their favorite shows. (I find the Afterbuzz TV on This is Us a little annoying, and actively disliked the one episode of This is Us Podcast that I tried. Podcasts are diverse and you are certain to find some that click with you and others that don’t.)
  • Interview-based shows: the host covers a different topic each week, interviewing experts in that field
    • Imaginary Worlds. The host, Eric Molinsky, talks and interviews people about science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and gaming – imaginary worlds and why we choose to suspend our disbelief. Eric has a great voice, a respectful interviewing style, and a genuine curiosity that really gets me engaged.
    • Hidden Brain from NPR. Host Shankar Vedantam uses science and story-telling to link neurobiology with economics, sociology and more. It reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior.
    • Broadway Backstory. A documentary style podcast exploring how a show goes from an idea to a full production.
    • 99% Invisible. Host Roman Mars (with one of the best voices in radio) explores the power of design and architecture. He takes on a topic that you may not even notice when it is working well and tells a compelling story about why it works the way it does.
    • The TED Radio Hour. Guy Raz explores the emotions, insights, and discoveries that make us human. The TED Radio Hour is a narrative journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, and new ways to think and create
  • NPR Politics: In-depth stories and discussion on the politics of the day from NPR’s top political reporters. I binged this from September 2016 – September 2017, then couldn’t bear to listen anymore. (But not because I don’t love the hosts or the podcast!)
  • Story-telling
    • Serial. This was a phenomenon when it launched in 2014. A true crime podcast, told as a serialized drama.  I have only listened to the first season, the story of Adnan and the murder of Hae Min Lee. The week long wait between episodes was unbearable. So compelling!!
    • The Moth. True stories, told live by those who experienced them. Recognized storytellers, first timers, and voices from communities whose stories often go heard. Range from hilarious to heart-breaking, often within the course of one story.
    • Vinyl Cafe. The Vinyl Cafe is an hour long show from the CBC that includes music (focusing on Canadian musicians), verbal essays about the host’s travels through Canada, stories from listeners and stories about a fictional family – the Dave and Morley stories. Sweet, delightful little stories that can have you laughing so hard you cry. (They’re kid appropriate too!) It broke my heart when the host Stuart McLean died in 2017. Right now on iTunes, they only have the Holiday Special. (Hopefully the rest re-appears someday.) But go, listen to it now. And then buy his CD’s of more stories.
  • Trivia podcasts. This summer, my daughter and I were playing pub trivia every Tuesday night (shout-out to Geeks Who Drink at Otter Bar in Seattle), so I binged on lots of trivia podcasts. My favorite by far was PodQuiz. Host James Carter is just so reliable. Each week there are 20 quality questions, and they always follow the same pattern, which is just strangely reassuring in an unpredictable world. He always starts with a music round, then questions on the theme of the week, then audio clips, then a general knowledge round. Then he plays a song (I skip over these, but that’s just me…) and then the answers. And the same sound effects every week and always ending with “Bye now.” I also really like Good Job Brain (and so does my 8 year old son). It’s a fun mixture of quizzes and also background knowledge on trivia topics which will build your skill for future trivia events.
  • Podcasts for Kids: I have an 8 year old, so we also spend plenty of car rides listening to science podcasts (Brains On, Wow in the World) and story podcasts (Sparkle Stories, Story Pirates, and Stories Podcasts). Read all about Podcasts for Kids and get all my recommendations in this separate post.

What are your favorite podcasts that I should check out?

47 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (or Their Heads Will Explode)


explode

There’s an article by Parents Magazine  that I often see shared on the internet. It’s titled “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids.” But the article is not about obviously harmful phrases like “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “I wish you’d never been born.” Instead, they’re cautioning about saying “Great job.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Let me help.” “Be careful.” “You’re OK.”

Huh?? You may wonder what is so awful about these words.

When you read their article, it’s got lots of really good content, and is well worth a read. But a better title would be “Translating Common Parenting Sayings into More Positive Statements Which Will Help Your Kids Develop Into the Emotionally and Physically Healthy, Upstanding Citizens You Hope They Will Become.”

But, Parenting magazine knows the rules of modern media. When you want people to read a title on Facebook and click through to read the article, it helps to include a number in the title (“5 reasons chocolate is healthier than kale”) and it helps if they can convince readers that if they don’t read the article something terrible will happen to them or their children. (“Follow our screen time tips or your child will be brain damaged for life.”) And it’s not just Parenting magazine – many other media outlets have used this same headline with success. At the bottom of this post, I list just the first page of search results for “things never to say to your kids.”

But, when parents read these headlines, how does it make us feel? It raises anxiety. It creates stress around the sense of “I have to do everything right as a parent, or my child will end up screwed up.” It makes us feel guilty about all the times we’ve “done it wrong.”

So, let’s first reality check these articles:

  1. At some point, all parents say mean things to their kids. It’s not just you! Just yesterday I said some things I’m sure are on lists of “things never to say to your kids.” We all have bad days, and we get angry, because we’re human. (Check out my series on parental anger – how to manage it and how to heal from it.)
  2. Luckily, kids are remarkably resilient. (To learn more about resiliency and how to help your kids build it, read this article by Jan Faull on the PEPS website.) If you have a positive, loving relationship with your child overall, a few harmful words will not damage that permanently.
  3. Almost all the things on all these lists of “things never to say” aren’t really that dreadful. I promise you that if you say good job to your child, they won’t be permanently damaged!!  However, there are many more things you might say instead, or in addition to, good job. Having an awareness of alternatives just helps broaden your list of options for how to connect with and guide your child.

So, I read through all those articles on things never to say. And I’ve gathered all those phrases below. But I am NOT saying “Never say these things.” Frankly, for most of these phrases, it would be totally fine if you say them from time to time. But, they don’t want to be the only message your child hears from you. For each one, I’ll then share some of the negative or non-helpful ways the phrase could be heard by a child. Then I’ll offer other options for alternatives you can try out, and gives resources for where you can learn more.

Unadulterated praiseGood Job / Great Job / Good girlThat’s a beautiful picture. You did that just right. What a perfect building you built! You’re the best _____ in the whole wide world!

  • How your child might hear this: Could hear judgment – there’s only one right way to do things. Could feel like empty praise if you say it no matter what they do, even it it’s easy. Could imply they’ve reached their limit and you don’t think they can do any better. They may not trust you after they discover they’re not the best ____ in the whole world.
  • Alternatives:  Only praise things that took effort. Focus on the process and HOW they did it and what they learned rather than on the product. Give specific detailed feedback about what’s good, and what could be even better. Read about questions to ask to extend their learning. Read more about effective praise.

You make me feels…. I’m proud of you. I love it when you…. It would make me happy / mad if you… I’m ashamed when you…. I’ll never forgive you

  • How your child might hear this: Your love is conditional on their accomplishments. Also implies that your emotional well-being as an adult is dependent on your child’s behavior.
  • Alternatives: Let your children know that you will always love them, no matter what. (This doesn’t mean that their behavior is always OK – it’s not, and you do need to set limits. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have high expectations for them – you do want them to work hard and be good people. But your happiness is not dependent on that.)

Practice makes perfect. 

  • How your child might hear this: Anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.
  • Alternatives: “Practice and you will improve.” “Making mistakes helps us get better.” “If you aren’t making any mistakes, this is too easy for you and maybe you’re ready for more challenge.” Read more about “Willingness to Fail is the Inventor’s Key to Success.”

Labeling:  You’re so [shy, smart, clumsy, pretty]. You’re the [strong, fast, silly, wild] one. You always… You’ll never… [lose, win, do anything wrong / right]. You’re worthless / a loser. Girls don’t do that / Boys don’t like..

  • Labeling your child limits them. If you label them based on a problem behavior, It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they continue to be that way. If you label them by a “talent” they have, then that creates a lot of pressure on them to retain that talent. They worry about losing your love / their identity if they don’t succeed in that area.
  • Alternatives: You do want to understand your child’s temperament, gender influences, and learning style and help support them in using their strengths to build confidence and work around the things that come harder to them. But don’t “label” kids or think they’ll never change. Praise effort, not talent. Let them know that everyone can get better at anything if they work at it. Learn more about the growth-based mindset.

ShamingYou’re just like [someone I don’t like]. Why can’t you be more like….Stop acting like a baby. You’re so [bad adjective] Big boys don’t… Good girls don’t….

  • What they might hear: These statements are intended to shame a child. “A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves.”
  • Alternatives: Let your child become the very best them they can become without worrying whether they are just like someone else. If you disapprove of a child’s behavior, tell them how to change the behavior. Try not to attack their identity or their sense of being worthy of your love.

What’s wrong with you?

  • Implies that the problem is with them, instead of with the situation.
  • Alternatives:  “What’s wrong?” “What happened that upset you?”

Let me do it:  Let me help you. Just let me do it for you. You’re doing it wrong, let me do it. You’re too slow, I’ll do it.

  • What they might hear: Implies that they’re not competent. If you rescue your child from every challenge, how will they ever learn to do anything on their own?
  • Alternatives: Allow them to be frustrated. When we’re struggling with something, we’re on the verge of learning something new. (If they’re miserable, that’s a different story….) Ask guiding questions – “what happens if…” Make gentle suggestions “Try…” If you’re really in a hurry say “I need to help you so we can get to preschool on time. Tomorrow you can try again when we have more time.”

Don’t cry. You’re OK. What a dumb thing to get upset about. Don’t worry, it will be fine. There’s no reason to be scared, just do it.

  • What they might hear: Their feelings are not important to you. They shouldn’t trust their own feelings, they should let other people tell them how to feel. Tells them not to trust their intuition and do things even if they seem risky. (This could get them into all sorts of trouble as teens.)
  • Alternatives: Validate emotions and pain first, then reassure. Once you’ve said “I hear that you’re scared / hurt / worried” then you can address logical reasons why you believe that it will be OK in the end. More on emotion coaching.

Don’t talk to strangers

  • What they might hear: This blanket message can make your child fearful of everyone and also limit their ability to learn the social skills they’ll need as adults who very frequently have to talk to strangers!
  • Alternatives: Model appropriate ways to interact with appropriate strangers. Talk to them about how to tell the difference. Read more about how to help your kid judge whether to talk to strangers  and talk about tricky people.”

Be careful. Watch out!

  • What they could hear: Of course we use it when needed! But if over-used, can create a fearful child who thinks the world is a dangerous place. Also: Teacher Tom says: “An adult who commands, “Don’t slide down that banister!” might be keeping a child safe in that moment, but is… robbing him of a chance to think for himself, which makes him that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him what to do.”
  • Alternatives:  Demonstrate / model how to be safe. Encourage them to look before leaping. Encourage them to tune into how they feel about something – if they’re nervous, there may be a good reason. When the risk is just a mild bump or bruise, let them test things. If they get that bruise, they’ll learn something important. Read more about teaching safety skills.

Promises you can’t keep: I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Don’t worry – you’ll always be safe. I promise – I’ll never die. I’ll always be here

  • What they might hear: Lies. And no tools for how to survive hardship.
  • Alternatives. “I’ll do my best to keep you safe. I’ll try to always be there for you, for as long as I live. Sometimes bad things will happen and I’ll try to help give you tools for coping with that.”

Please Go Aways: You’re in the way. I can’t get anything done with you around. Hurry up. You’re making us late. Shut up. I have better things to do than… Would you just leave me alone for 5 minutes?

  • What they might hear: So, I totally get that children are terribly inconvenient at times, and that they make everything harder, and that we all need breaks sometimes!! However, these sorts of statements create stress and anxiety and make the child wonder if he is loved.
  • Alternatives: Give positive, concrete suggestions for other positive, concrete things they could be doing in the moment. When you really need a break or need help, admit it and ask for it. That’s part of modelling self care. “Mama is really sick today. I need your help. Can you sit and play quietly for just a few minutes?”

If/ThenIf …. then…..  If you do [this bad thing], then you’ll get [this punishment].

  • What they might hear:  ““I’m expecting bad behavior and am looking forward to punishing you.”
  • Alternative: When … then….  “When you do [good thing that I’m expecting you to do], then we’ll get to do [this fun thing] together.” Learn more about punishment and reward.

Wait till your father gets home.

  • What they might hear: you don’t have enough power to enforce consequences.
  • Alternatives: Consequences should be immediate, logical, and enforced by the parent who encountered the misbehavior.

I told you so: that’s what you get for not listening

  • What they might hear: Feels a little vindictive, like you were hoping something bad would happen to them.
  • Alternative: “Well, that’s not what you were hoping would happen is it? What could you do differently in the future so you don’t have this problem again?”

Because I said so

    • What they might hear: It’s authoritarian. Implies that whoever makes the rules can make arbitrary judgments on a whim, and they have no control over that. 
    • Alternative: “I’m your parent, and it’s my job to keep you safe and help you grow up to be a good person and keep things running well around the house. Sometimes I have to enforce rules you don’t like. It feels unfair to you, but I will continue to do what I think is best.”

Telling them how to do things they know how to do: Hang your coat up. Wash your hands.

  • What they could hear: You think they’re now smart or competent. Also implies they only need to do those things when you tell them to.
  • Alternatives: Ask them that to do: “Where does your coat go? What do you do before we eat? I bet you know what you need to do next.”

Don’t ______. Don’t throw that / spill that / hit the dog / slam the door.

  • What they might hear: If you just tell them  NOT to do, they first have to stop their impulse to do it (which is hard for a young child) and then figure out something to do instead (which is even harder.) Also, if they already know not to do that thing, you don’t want to pay too much attention to it, as attention reinforces behavior.
  • Alternative: Tell them what TO DO. “Carefully set that down. Move your milk so it doesn’t spill. Pet the dog softly. Close the door gently.”

You did that wrong. Why do you mess things up?

  • What they could hear: Mistakes are bad. Don’t try anything you’re not sure you can do well.
  • Alternative: “Oops, that didn’t work. What could you do differently?” “Making mistakes helps us get better.”

Learn more:

Here are lots more articles on these ideas.

Printable handout:

Would you like to print out a handout of this info for yourself or to share with friends or students or clients? Click here for: Words Matter 2. Includes a worksheet where you can practice re-writing sentences to be more effective.

Fun with Toddlers – Beach Theme

My Fun with Toddlers series includes crafts, games, songs, rhymes and books tied into a theme. These can be used as lesson plans for a toddler class, preschool curriculum, or for parents to have fun with little ones at home. A beach or ocean theme offers lots of fun opportunities.

Activities

Field Trips. If you live near a beach, go there! If there’s an aquarium nearby, go there. Or go to a pet store, what I call the “small animal zoo” to observe fish and other aquatic creatures. You may even find great tropical fish tanks at restaurants or in hospital lobbies.

Ocean Sensory Bag. Get a gallon size ziplock (freezer bags are even sturdier than regular bags). Fill it with water, or with blue shower gel or clear hair gel from the dollar store. Add plastic fishor shells or glass stones, then close the bag, and tape it closed. Set it on a table (or tape it to a window) and a baby or toddler can poke and prod at it, and the fishies “swim away” from their fingers. Photo is from For the Love of Learning.

sensory bag

(HearthSong also makes a really cool AquaPod which is a 4′ diameter pod you fill with water that kids can jump on, roll on, etc.)

aquapod

Sink and Float Experiments. In the bathtub, or a large tub of water, let your child experiment with a wide variety of objects. What sinks? What floats? Help them notice any patterns (e.g. these metal things sink, these plastic things float).

Explore Shells. Offer a collection of shells for your child to explore. Talk about their colors, shapes, textures. Count them. Sort them.

Discovery Bottle. Fill a water bottle partway with water, add blue food color. Then add in either oil (mineral oil or baby oil are prettier, but any vegetable oil will do – see more pictures at Imagination tree) or blue glitter glue (like littlebins does). Then add seashells and/or plastic fish. Put on the lid and seal with tape or glue. Child shakes and observes.

bottle 6  

Beach Dough. Make play-dough with sand. Let your child play with it with their usual Play-dough Tools and add shells to mix in.

Ice Excavation. Fill a container with water, drop in sand, shells, and plastic fish and freeze. Put it in a tub and give your child water to pour over it to melt the ice. (If your child won’t eat the salt, you can also give them a salt shaker to sprinkle salt on it to hasten the melting process.) Photos from littlebins.

iceice2

Crafts

Ocean Foil Painting. Cover cardboard with aluminum foil. Squirt on a little green paint and more blue paint (glitter paint is especially fun). Give child q-tips or paint brush to smear the paint around. Let the painting dry overnight, then add ocean life stickers. Find a full tutorial and more pictures at newswithnaylors.

foil

Bubble wrap prints. Place bubble wrap on a tray. Dribble some paint on it. Let your child use their fingers or a paint brush to spread the paint around. Then press paper onto it to print the paper, then cut the paper into fish or starfish shapes. (photo Crafty Toddlers)

Celery print fish. Give your child a fish shape cut from paper, paint, and a celery stalk. Show them how to dip the celery in paint, and press it to the paper to make fish scales. This image is from Crafty Morning. Your child’s art won’t be this pretty. You could also do this on a paper plate to make a fish like a Little Pinch of Perfect‘s project.

celery-stamp-rainbow-fish-craft-for-kids-to-make Paper Plate Fish Craft Inspired by The Rainbow Fish: a perfect read and craft book activity for kids (preschool, kindergarten, ocean, summer, childrens literature)

Ocean Suncatcher. Peel the backing off of contact paper, and place it sticky side up. Give your child blue tissue paper squares and black ocean life shapes to stick on. When they’re done, seal it with another piece of contact paper and tape in the window. Images from Mrs. Plemon’s kindergarten and Buggy and Buddy.

suncatcher Shark Crafts for Kids: Shark Suncatcher~ BuggyandBuddy.com

Coffee Filter Craft. Give your child ocean colored liquid watercolors or diluted food coloring and a q-tip. They dip the q-tip in the color, then touch it to the coffee filter to decorate it. Idea from a little Pinch of Perfection.

Ocean Animal Coffee Filter Suncatcher Kids Craft and Free Template (summer, ocean, whale, shark, dolphin, kids craft)

Paper Bag Jellyfish. Child paints the paper bag, then you cut the tentacles and add a face.

ocean themed crafts

Aquarium – photo at top of page. Spread glue across the bottom of a paper bowl. Sprinkle in aquarium gravel, sequins or gems, or glass stones. Add a sparkly paper fish. (This craft is better suited to preschoolers than young toddlers.)

Songs to Sing

Row Row Row Your Boat

My Bonnie (hold child in lap, lift child up each time you say Bonnie; tune)
My Bonnie lies over the ocean My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean Oh bring back my Bonnie to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back (rock back and forth) Oh bring back my Bonnie to me

Little fish (here’s a video of the tune – my words are slightly different)
Little fish, little fish, Swimming in the water,
little fish, little fish, Gulp, gulp, gulp.
Oh no! It’s being eaten by a
Bigger fish, bigger fish, Swimming in the water….
Octopus…wiggling…  great white shark… lurking…
Big blue whale…. Spouting… (for this verse end with “Splash, splash splash” instead of gulp)

Baby Shark (really fun to sing! here’s a video,)
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo
Baby shark, Doot-doo, doot-doo-doo-doo Baby Shark!
Mommy Shark… Daddy shark… Grandma shark… Going swimming… See a shark… Swimming fast… Safe at last… Bye-bye shark…

All the Fish (tune)
All the fish are swimming in the water, Swimming in the water, Swimming in the water
All the fish are swimming in the water (swimming motions with arms)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH! (spread hands wider & wider, big clap for the SPLASH)
All the ducks are paddling in the water, paddling in the water, paddling in the water
All the ducks are paddling in the water (doggy paddle motion with hands)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!
All the frogs are jumping in the water…. (jump with both feet)
All the kids are splashing in the water… (splash hands in the air)
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…SPLASH!

Fish in the Ocean (tune: Wheels on the Bus)
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim swim. Swim, swim, swim.  Swim, swim, swim!
The fish in the ocean go swim, swim, swim.  All day long!
The octopus in the ocean goes wiggle…. Sharks chomp…. Crabs pinch… sea horse rocks…

Rhyme to Say

One, two, three, four, five. Once I caught a fish alive.
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Then I let him go again.
Why did you let him go? Because he bit my finger so!
Which little finger did he bite? This little finger on the right.

Books to Read

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon. A counting book-that-sings based on the “Over in the Meadow” tune, featuring gorgeous illustrations.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round by  MacDonald. A terribly clever design. As you read forward in the book, it counts up from one to ten. Then when you reach the end, you flip it over and count down from ten to one.

Ten Little Fish by Wood and Wood. Age 2 – 5. A counting book with cute illustrations, simple text. Counts from ten down to one, then “along comes another fish… soon one is a father, the other is a mother…”

Spot Goes to the Beach by Hill. Duck & Goose Go to the Beach by Hills. Ladybug Girl at the Beach by Soman and Davis. Honestly, just go to your library catalog… do a keyword search for “beach”, then narrow the search down to children’s books, and you’ll discover books from Curious George at the Beach to Paddington to Pete the Cat to Scaredy Squirrel… pretty much every series with more than a few books goes to the beach at some point.

Here is a free printable handout handout you can share with some beach themed activities.

For science themed activities for older kids related to the ocean, the beach, sink and float, check out my other blog, https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/. Or check out my Fun with Toddlers series for other themes, including: Pets, Zoo, Transportation, and the seasons.

How Halloween Works

stock photo of child trick or treating

Fifty years ago, my husband’s parents moved to the United States and luckily, a co-worker took Jim aside and explained to him what Halloween was, and how trick or treating works. I had neighbors a few years back who weren’t so lucky, and were very confused when my costumed family showed up on their doorstep calling out Trick or Treat! I now work with many families who are newly immigrated to the U.S. so I thought I’d write a primer on how Trick or Treating works, from choosing a costume to how to trick or treat, where to trick or treat (neighborhood, malls, trunk or treat events or office parties), how to welcome trick or treaters at your house, safety issues, and what to do with all that candy! I also include a few recommendations for movies, books, and songs about Halloween.

Choosing a Halloween Costume

If you’ll be trick or treating outside, think ahead about practical things about what the weather will be (do they need to fit a coat under the costume, or wear something that can get wet) and how to ensure your child will be visible to drivers (if your child chooses an all black costume, consider choosing a white treat bag or other accessory that’s visible in the dark). Check out my other post for lots more thoughts on choosing a costume.

Don’t forget a treat bag or container of some sort for collecting candy in. Make sure it’s easy for your kid to carry, easy for them to open up to put candy in, and not easy for them to spill all the candy out of! (Tip: Don’t choose a giant bag. Choose a smaller container, so it’s easy to say “Oh, it looks like your bag is full. It’s time to go home.” There’s only so much candy you want to collect!)

How to trick or treat:

Look for houses that have their porch lights on – that’s the signal that they welcome trick or treaters. Send the children up to the porch (you hover nearby). They ring the doorbell or knock. (If no one answers, move on. But usually they will.) When the host opens the door, the kids say “Trick or Treat!!” Sometimes the host holds out a bowl of candy – kids can reach in and take candy. (This is a good chance for kids to practice their best manners – make sure they know to take just one!!) Sometimes the host holds out a few pieces of candy – the kids hold their treat bags up for the host to put the candy into. Teach your child to always say “Thank you” and “Happy Halloween.”

Sometimes the host will engage them in a lot more conversation like “Oh, I like your costume? What are you dressed up as?” Encourage your child to participate, or move nearer to help them answer. This is a good time for them to practice social skills. On a very rare occasion, when your child says “trick or treat”, the host will say “trick.” Tell your child they could cross their eyes, roll their tongue, balance on one foot or something else.

People ask “What time is trick or treating?” There’s not usually any set time, just the general trend for an area. In the Seattle area, we find that our earliest kids come by at 5:30, and the latest are around 8:30. Aim for the middle of that window, and you’ll be fine. Make sure your kid eats a good dinner before you start! Note: toddlers may only be up to going to a handful of stops before they’re done. The older kids are, the longer they last.

Choosing Where to Trick or Treat

Neighborhood?

My favorite option is to trick or treat in a neighborhood. It’s a fun opportunity to take your child for a walk around the neighborhood after dark, and a rare chance in modern society to at least briefly meet lots of your neighbors.

Which neighborhood to chooseI think it’s lovely when you can do your own neighborhood. When I was a kid, we knew the families with kids, but this was one of our few opportunities to interact with the other families in the neighborhood. In our current neighborhood, we know some families well (the ones with kids), some families a little (the ones who come to the HOA meetings), and there’s a few families that our only interaction with them has been on Halloween nights. I think when neighbors can recognize each other and have some connection to each other, no matter how small, it makes the neighborhood friendlier and safer for all, as we all look out for each other a little bit more.

But, many people live in neighborhoods that are unsafe, or neighborhoods like my in-laws where over the past several years, fewer and fewer houses had their porch lights on each year, so more kids chose to go elsewhere, so fewer kids came, and my in-laws are about to give up on buying candy and turning their porch light on.

If you’re wondering whether your neighborhood will be busy on Halloween night, or if there is somewhere better to go, ask neighbors, ask parents at the playground, or ask on Nextdoor or your neighborhood Facebook group. As a general rule, upper middle class neighborhoods where young families live may be best – lower income areas or areas with older homes are more likely to have retired folks or younger adults who are at work. (Not to say there can’t be great neighborhoods in all demographics!)

For apartment dwellers – Some apartment communities actively encourage trick or treating (you’ll see signs up in the elevators or by the mailboxes, notices in the newsletter, and so on). Some don’t. Some apartment dwellers host trick or treaters even if the apartment doesn’t specifically encourage it, but some don’t participate even when the community does. Keep your ear out for what it seems to be where you live – on Halloween night, there may be a system like: if there are decorations or a sign you can trick or treat there. (Learn more about apartment Halloweens.)

Candy in a bowlSome people who aren’t able to be home for Halloween leave out a bowl of candy. I generally don’t have my kid take any, just because for me, the whole point of Halloween is human interaction, not more candy.

The Mall (or downtown business district)

Lots of malls host a trick or treating event (at the bottom of this post, I list details for my local malls on the Eastside of Seattle). The events may also include live music, clowns, games, face painting, costume contests, or other activities.

In these, you go store to store (participating stores are typically marked in some way like a balloon at the door), and ask for candy.

I’ve found that at some stores, you get a great reception where you do the whole trick or treat routine and the clerk chats about the costume and so on. At other stores, especially the busy ones, the poor harried clerks just kind of point at the candy dish and grunt “take one” and go back to work.

The advantages to a mall event are that the weather doesn’t matter, they’re well-lit, and can feel a lot safer and more predictable than a neighborhood. The disadvantage is that it can feel a little impersonal and consumerist – you’ll go home with a lot of candy, but not much sense of connection.

Trunk or Treat

Some churches or schools sponsor “trunk or treat” events which are often open to the general public. These are “Halloween tailgating parties” where parents or community members park their cars in a parking lot and decorate their backs of their cars, and the kids walk around to the cars to trick or treat. At some events, kids do an activity, like a carnival game, to earn their candy.

I honestly have never been to one, but it sounds like kind of halfway between the other two options – it’s outdoors and has more personal interactions like the neighborhood, but it may feel safer or more contained, like the mall. Since it’s a short walk between cars, it may be easier with little ones than a neighborhood. Also, parents / community members get a chance to socialize instead of being at home alone waiting for trick or treaters to appear. Events may have rules which ban overly scary or grotesque decor which might frighten kids. Here’s an article about how to organize a trunk or treat event. And Pinterest has hundreds of ideas for how to decorate a car for an event.

Office Parties

Some companies host trick or treating in their offices, where the kids go around to desks or offices. This could be a nice chance for your child to meet your co-workers or a partner’s co-workers and see the workplace. Like mall events, I find that some people are excited to greet the kids, and it’s a nice chance to connect. Some are just trying to finish work before a deadline and just kind of wave at the candy bowl and continue working.

Nursing Homes

Some elder care facilities host Halloween events. It’s a nice chance for your child to experience being around older people in a positive way, and can brighten their day.

Welcoming Trick or Treaters at Your Home

If you live in a neighborhood where there’s lots of trick or treating, then when children are younger, it may be easier to stay home and let the fun come to you. Many people without children may also opt to stay home on Halloween and welcome trick or treaters. Or leave one family member home while the rest go out.

Getting the Goods: Buy candy that you like, in case you have leftovers. Only give away items that are individually wrapped. This is not the time to make your own cookies to share. It can be hard to know how much to get – ask your neighbors what typical traffic is in your neighborhood, or ask on Nextdoor or your neighborhood Facebook group. My in-laws buy 6 full size bars and often don’t give those away. We give out about 50 – 70 items. Other neighborhoods I’ve heard may do 200! Find tips below on allergen friendly and eco friendly options for treats.

On Halloween night: Leave your porch light on – that tells people they’re welcome to come ring your doorbell. Adding a few decorations is even more welcoming. Some families play Halloween themed music too. Or bake pumpkin spice cookies – not to give away, but to make the whole neighborhood smell good! Put your pets away – you don’t want to risk them running out the front door, or frightening a child. (If you’re a dog lover with a sweet dog, it can be hard to remember that many children have no experience with dogs or might have had a frightening encounter in the past.) If you run out of candy, turn off your porch light.

For info on what to expect when you open the door, see how to trick or treat above.

Choosing Low Allergen or Non-Food Treats

Consider offering a couple different kinds of candy. For example, if you’re a huge fan of a candy with nuts, offer that, but also offer a nut-free option. Or if you offer milk chocolate, offer a dairy-free option. Or consider a non-food option, since in the United States, 1 in 13 children has a food allergy, some of which are life-threatening. Many of these children participate in the fun of trick or treating, then go home and sort through their candy with their parents for the few pieces that they can eat.
Food Allergy Resource and Education sponsors the Teal Pumpkin project. It raises awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all trick or treaters. It offers an alternative for kids with food allergies and others for whom candy is not an option. To participate, you provide non-food treats, and place a teal pumpkin at your house to signal your participation and to raise awareness. (If you also offer candy, make sure the non-food treats are in a separate bowl to avoid cross-contamination.)

They offer several ideas for non-food treats, as does the Green Halloween site. You can get glow sticks or stickers or such at your local dollar store – or check out your local thrift store for pre-used items to cut down on environmental impact. We gave away Glow In The Dark Balls for Star Wars year, Dinosaur Toys when my son was a triceratops,  jungle Animal Stickers (including tigers) for Calvin & Hobbes theme, and Pokemon Toys when he was Pikachu. The cost has ranged from about 10 cents to 30 cents an item.

Green Halloween

All of this individually wrapped candy or all those non-food consumer goods have a negative impact on the environment. It’s also a really consumerist holiday that’s all about “getting more stuff.”

You can make your Halloween greener by: buying costumes from second-hand stores or participating in costume swaps, re-purposing clothes or dress-up supplies you already own by adding make-up or a few small accessories, using lead-free face paint instead of masks, choosing decorations you can re-use every year rather than buying new, making decorations from recyclable items, composting your pumpkins, selecting treats that are free trade or organic (Green Halloween has recommendations), giving seashells or polished rocks or seeds to plant, or hosting a party to encourage people not to participate in trick or treating.

Hot Beverages

Our family tradition is a little unusual… years ago, we went trick or treating on a very cold night in Snoqualmie, and a family was giving out hot cider to the parents and it was lovely! Years later, we moved to a neighborhood with trick or treaters, to a house with a front porch, and we started our tradition of sitting on the front porch handing out hot chocolate and hot cider to all the parents who come by. (And non-food treats to kids – we’re a teal pumpkin house.) Our decor theme each year is determined by what our son decided to be for Halloween that year.

Because this is not really a common Halloween tradition, people are often surprised when we offer them a drink, but then we end up having some great conversations with them and they almost always take us up on the offer.

I hear rumor that some parents hand out alcoholic beverages to other parents. We don’t, because I’m not into anything involving potential legal liability.

Leaving out a bowl of candy

Some people feel bad about being away from home on Halloween, so will leave out a bowl of candy so no one is disappointed. This can work out very well – some will report that some candy was taken, or will say that their security cameras recorded lots of sweet little kids coming up and taking one candy each. Some report that not only was all their candy taken by one person – the person took the bowl too. 😦

Handling Scary Decor and Costumes

Your child may see costumes or decorations that frighten them. There is a trend toward gory, macabre costumes and decorations, like bloody severed hands and rotting corpses.

Some people argue for the scares:

“It’s about the other side, the dark side, the side of life we as parents would like to pretend doesn’t exist—but it does. It’s about going out into the night and confronting your fears, a little more each year. And what’s better than facing your fears and finding out they’re not as scary as you imagined? It’s like going on a roller coaster. First time: terrifying. Subsequent times: totally fun.”  (Source)

But if you’re the one who has to manage your child’s fears in the moment, or their nightmares and anxieties for the next few weeks, you may not feel so enthusiastic about this trend. Some ways to manage this:

  • before Halloween talk about decorations – maybe even go look at them in stores so your child can see that the skeleton is lifeless plastic. Explain that people will dress up in costumes and show pictures of lots of friendly costumes and a couple scary ones, but emphasize that it’s always just another kid underneath the mask.
  • you and your child could preview the neighborhood you plan to trick or treat in the daytime – seeing the decorations in the light of day can make them less frightening
  • teach your child that if there’s decorations that make them uncomfortable, they can skip that house – we use the phrase “it’s OK to say no when your friends say go”
  • if you and your child are welcoming trick or treaters at your own door, you may want to peek out at the costume first to see whether it’s one that will concern your child before calling the child over to see

Safety

You’re out after dark in neighborhoods that may not typically have many pedestrians, so practice really good pedestrian safety. If anything about a neighborhood or a particular house feels wrong to you, trust your instincts and skip it. Explain to your child why you are doing that – it’s good for them to learn to trust their instincts too. (But please try not to let prejudice enter in here… nothing like “we won’t go to that house because I don’t trust people of that race / religion / orientation…”)

Some parents of upper elementary kids will drive slowly along in the car while the kids trick or treat, keeping an eye on them.

Pre-teens.  If you have a tween who wants to trick or treat with friends without you tagging along: Make sure they have a phone with them, know not to enter any building, and know to leave immediately if they are uncomfortable. (You can do an update to the “Tricky People” conversations you had when they were little.) Also have them do regularly scheduled check-ins. If they’re in your neighborhood, ask them to do one block, then stop by to say hi, then another block, etc. If they’re in another neighborhood, you can hang out in your car or at a public place nearby where they can check in from time to time.

Teenagers – How Old is too Old to Trick or Treat?

I personally lean toward following the memes that say teenagers are just trying to be kids for a little while longer, and it’s better for them to be trick or treating than up to other mischief on Halloween. (Like attending a kegger….)

And yes, they might not be wearing a costume, but that’s because the group of friends may have decided at the last minute to do this, and didn’t want to admit to each other that they all still wanted to do this.

When teenagers do come to my door, I treat them as I would anyone. But if they forget to say trick or treat or say thank you, I smilingly remind them to do so the next time.

When I had a teenager who still wanted to trick or treat, I also had a toddler. So, my daughter and her friends took my little guy out. Consider suggesting to your teen that they offer babysitting / Trick or Treating Buddy services to a family you know with younger kids. They can dress up too.

What to do with all that candy

Set up rules and expectations in advanceWhatever the rules will be, tell your child BEFORE the candy is in their hands!!! You don’t want your memories of the evening to be about the whining and yelling that happened when you tried to make up rules in the moment.

Inspect before eating. Many parents have a rule: Don’t eat candy while trick or treating – wait till we get home and can check it out in the light. I personally don’t worry much about things like poisoning or razors in the candy – those things have happened but are really incredibly rare. But I still like to look at what we’re eating first.

Sort the candySorting is a key skill in math and science. Kids can learn a lot by counting, sorting by size, sorting by chocolate / non-chocolate, sorting by favorite to least favorite, comparing who collected the most, and so on.

Do more science! There’s lots of great experiments with candy. Start here, then use google or Pinterest to search for more ideas.

Do more math! There’s lots of math activities with candy. (The more you have, the more you can count. Start here, then use google or Pinterest to search for more ideas.

Trade the candyWe’ve had complicated family exchanges in our family sometimes: “I’ll give you three Milky Ways for that Twizzlers.”

Share the candy.  Encourage kids to share candy with other people who didn’t go trick or treating: “Dad gets all the Reeses’ cups.” “Grandpa really loves butterscotch candies.”

Send candy care packages to troops. Learn how at https://www.operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/halloween-candy/ There’s additional donation options here.

Participate in a candy buyback. These may be sponsored by a local dentist office or other organization. They may participate in the www.halloweencandybuyback.com/ program, which supports veterans programs.

Buy it back yourself. Some parents buy the kids’ candy either with money or a promised toy.

Let them eat as much as they want. Some people recommend this. Some, like dietitian Emily Fonnesbeck, say

“trying to control a kid’s candy intake [on Halloween] can backfire, and limits their opportunity to learn about making good food choices for themselves, even when they’ve got a pillowcase full of candy… “If we make candy a big deal, it will be a big deal,” she says. “If we talk about it like any other food, it’s more likely that kids will be able to self-regulate their food choices to include a wide variety of foods instead of feeling preoccupied, worried or shameful for food choices.”

Some parents say they’ve had a time where they let a kid totally gorge on candy till they threw up, figuring they’d “learn a lesson” that way. Personally, my kid learned that lesson on accident once (on an Easter when she was 23 months old, we thought we were supervising her well… till she started vomiting all over my friend’s house, and we could tell that somehow she’d gotten a hold of and eaten LOTS of chocolate). I don’t want to repeat that experience! Here’s our solution:

Eat it. But follow portion rulesIn our family, we tend to have an “all things in moderation” attitude. We don’t ban much of anything. (Read here about a study where kids got a little obsessed with the crackers that they had been temporarily banned from eating, and other effects of denying food to kids.)

One place that plays out is in our “two sweets a day” rule, where the kids get sweet credits. A credit equals one cookie, or a piece of cake, or a piece of candy (like a fun size piece… a whole candy bar would be many credits, with M&M’s there’s about 5 candies per credit). They can spend their credits at any time during the day, as long as they have eaten some real food first (i.e. no candy before breakfast). But once the credits are used, they’re gone… so “if you know grandpa will offer to take you to ice cream tonight, be sure to save a credit for that”. For Halloween, we allow them to eat five candies that day, and the rest gets put away for future use. (And each October 30, I throw away all the old candy leftover from Halloween, Christmas, Easter and summer parades since they never remember to eat it all.)

Halloween Movies, Books, Songs

For some more Halloween fun, in the weeks leading up to the big day:

Check out these posts for Scary (but not too scary) Halloween movies – categorized by age level, and How to Choose a Scary Movie for your Kid. It includes these tips and more:

“Kids under 7 will believe what they see. When picking media, nothing should be more startling than “Boo!” Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize that it’s fantasy. Be careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies.”

Here are recommendations for Halloween Books that are only slightly scary and Best Halloween Books for Kids.

For fun songs, rhymes and crafts for toddlers and preschoolers, check out my Fall Themed Fun for Toddlers. For thousands more craft ideas, just check out Pinterest.

Trick or Treat 2018 – Mall Options on Seattle’s Eastside

Here’s a list of public places that are offering trick or treating on Halloween – Oct. 31:

  • Bellevue Square, 5 – 7 pm. Trick or treat, photobooth, clowns, Mad Science, live music.
  • Crossroads 4 – 6 pm, trick or treat at outside stores, not inside the mall. No masks. Live music 6 – 7:30.
  • Factoria 4:30 – 6:30 pm Trick or treat and games.
  • Kirkland Downtown – Trick or treat at downtown merchants. Typically 3 – 6 pm, but 2018 details not posted as of 10/12.
  • Redmond Town Center, 4 – 7 pm. Trick or treat, face painting, and jumping in the Springfree trampoline, face painting and costume contest.

Seattle area folks, also check out these ParentMap articles on Best Pumpkin Patches in King and Snohomish Counties, and Scary (and Unscary) Haunted House Attractions

Learn about more local Seattle area activities for families, year-round.

Learn about the importance of family rituals.

Photo at top of page from: Good Free Photos.

Choosing a Halloween Costume

photo of teen and toddler trick or treating

It’s that time of year again – time to choose this year’s Halloween costume! Consider: who makes the choice? How do you choose something that’s appropriate for rainy night trick-or-treating AND for indoor parties? Where should you shop? How do you feel about sexy costumes? Gory costumes? What about culturally appropriate costumes? Or home-made costumes? There’s lots to think about and lots of good meaty discussions to be had with kids related to those choices. (If you’re looking for more info on Trick or Treating, read my post on How Halloween Works.)

Who chooses?

For a young child, you usually have complete control over their costume choice. The older they get, the more say they want in the decision. As with all things, I tell parents that it’s good to let your child make developmentally appropriate choices, but you as the parent always maintain control over what options are on the table.

For a young child, I personally prefer to do the shopping around for ideas by myself – either going to the store first to preview the options, or looking online and narrowing it down to a small number of reasonable options. If they’re right next to you while you start looking, they may fall in love with something that is inappropriate for some reason, and then you have a battle to fight. It’s just smoother if you think through the logistics and know what the options are before you offer them the final choice.

For an older child, before shopping for a costume, set ground rules for what’s OK, and what’s not: “We need to pick something that would be OK for the dance AND for outdoor trick or treating.” “Remember, the rules are no masks at school.” “Our maximum budget is…” If they make a choice that fits the rules, even if you think it’s a foolish choice for some reason, then you can go along with it… Now, to be fair, I do point out to my child what I think the problem might be, but if they choose it anyway, then maybe it works out, or maybe they learn a lesson for the future. (Read about natural consequences.)

Understanding their Reasons

Sometimes our kids’ costume preferences confuse us. We wonder why they would choose that. Or we make assumptions about what it might mean that they would choose that. Sometimes we might be uncomfortable based on those assumptions. It’s always worth asking your child why they are interested in that costume. Their reasons may be very different than you assume, and might lead you to some new insight into your child and how they view the world.

Or not… this morning my 7 yo son asked “Do you think I should be Pikachu again or should I be a murderer?” I voted Pikachu, which he easily agreed to. I asked why he wanted to be a murderer and he just said “I dunno. Just seemed like an interesting idea.”

Think about when and where it will be worn

When I was a kid, you pretty much only wore your costume once, on Halloween evening. But with the current generation of kids, I’ve found they end up wearing them many times in one week: to a  party the Saturday before Halloween, to the costume parade at church, to a party at school, and then trick or treating. Make sure you choose something that is practical for all those venues. (For example, if you have a first grader who will need to put on his costume by himself over his school clothes, make sure that’s possible. If you have to drive to the party venue, think about how your costumed child will fit in the car seat. My husband once dressed as a pencil for a high school dance – great costume… hard to dance in!) If you’re taking a little one trick or treating, be sure you can carry them in their costume when (not if) they get tired.

What about the weather?

I grew up in Wyoming, where the temperature was often below freezing for trick or treating, so we needed to have costumes that fit over our down parkas. Or we had to wear the coat on top, which covered up most of the costume. My kids have grown up in Seattle, which means the temperature can be anywhere from about 45 – 65 degrees, and the chances of rain are very high. So, either you choose a costume that can handle the rain, or carry an umbrella. (Yes, I know “Seattleites don’t use umbrellas” but this can be an exception.) Or, I know some families who have allowed their child to have one costume for indoor events and a practical outdoor-friendly costume for trick or treating. (Bonus: that Pikachu costume that’s big enough to fit over a parka may also be flexible enough in sizing for you kid to wear it multiple years.)

photo of child in pikachu costume

What about safety?

If you’ll be trick or treating outdoors after dark, you may want to ensure that your child won’t be dressed in solid black from head to toe, or if they are, consider a white treat bag, or fastening a glow stick or light to their treat bag.

Also make sure that they have enough visibility through their mask to be able to move safely in a dark neighborhood, and that their costume wouldn’t get tangled up and make them fall if they were moving quickly.

Where to Shop

Choose to Re-Use

Halloween costumes are the perfect item to shop for at consignment shops and other second hand sellers. They are all only worn a few times, so buying used means you get a good quality item for much cheaper and it’s better for the environment than buying more and more new goods. You could also see if you have a local Buy Nothing Project group on Facebook, or see if there are any local costume exchange parties (my city, Kirkland, has a Halloween costume swap where people go in one day to donate old costumes and come back the next to choose a free costume. But this year, it happened on September 29, and I don’t manage to even think about Halloween in September.)

people shopping at halloween costume swap

Online

ben.jpgI hate shopping in stores. I strongly prefer online shopping. I like that I can go to Amazon and type in dinosaur costume and get LOTS of good options to choose from, where I can read all the reviews and learn about the ones that the Velcro never stays fastened on, or whose hood was too small to fit on any kids’ head. And I have to say, the dinosaur costume I bought when he was two was great!

Stores

Halloween specialty stores may have a lot more options than your local big box store. However, they also have lots of Halloween decorations. That can be exciting for some kids and scary for others. My oldest at age 3 was in the mall with grandma, and they walked past a Halloween store, and there was a mask in the window based on the artwork The Scream by Edvard Munch. My child was terrified and cried and cried and wouldn’t go to that part of the mall for the next few weeks.

This is another reason it can be good to preview your options at the store by yourself before bringing a little one along!

What’s Appropriate? What’s Inappropriate?

Sexy Costumes

Now, if you have a teenage girl, they’re likely to have years where they want to choose a sexy costume. (Yes, the photo at the top of the page is my teenage daughter in her Black Widow costume with her toddler brother in his Kipper the dog costume.)

It’s generally not that they want to be sexy or have sex, so much as that they want to look grown-up and match images they see in the media. They may not really understand how they could be perceived by others. (This offers a good opportunity to talk to them about sexuality and sexual harassment / creepy behavior.)  Set the limits you feel are appropriate and stick to them even when they say “It’s not fair! You don’t understand!” You may consider context – if they’re going to a party with just friends, or trick or treating with their parents in tow, you might offer more leeway, but if they’re going out to the mall with friends, where they’ll meet a variety of strangers, you might be more cautious.

For little kids, personally, I would refuse to buy any costume for a young girl that hints at being “sexy.” I don’t want to support those companies. But, you should set the limits that feel right for your family and your values.

Gory Costumes

There is also a trend toward more bloody, gory costumes and decorations. Costumes sold in sizes that fit 5 year olds include: characters from horror movies I hope you don’t let your child watch yet (Jason, Freddy, Chucky, Michael Myers), zombies with bloody axes, skeletons with rotting flesh, and zombie sock monkey with blood splashes.

Part of the joy of Halloween has always been that exploration of the darker side of life and of stories. There is a little thrill that comes from role-playing something that is more evil than you would ever want to be. But the question is how dark is too dark?

“I think wearing these costumes and being exposed to human depravity, even in a ‘fun’ context, doesn’t scar kids so much as desensitize them to brutal violence,” Schwartzberg said. “Kids are less able to distinguish between real world and fictional brutality than grown-ups.”  (Source)

If your child wants a gory costume, have a discussion with them about how they think other people might feel about it. They may get a thrill over being seen as edgy. But, you may share with them that some kids are afraid to go trick or treating or to open the door to trick or treaters at their home because the gory costumes are so frightening to them.

Note: sometimes at Halloween, conversations about death come up. Here’s info on Talking to Children about Death.

Weapons

photo of toddler in Ben Kenobi costumeLots of costumes, particularly for boys, involve weapons of various sorts. Some parents choose no weapons. Some will OK “fantasy weapons” such as a light saber for Ben Kenobi or a sword for a knight. If you’d like to learn more about why children are fascinated with guns and weapons and how we can allow some exploration but set appropriate limits, read my post on Weapon Play.

Gender Stereotypes

Costumes reinforce a lot of gender stereotypes: the pretty princess, the pretty butterfly, the pretty kitty are little girl costumes. The superhero with the built in bulging muscles, the ferocious dinosaur / monster, and the powerful Transformer are little boy costumes. If a child wants a police officer or firefighter costume, the boys’ version of the costume looks like the real thing. The girls’ version comes with a short skirt, a low cut top and high heels.

“While the boys have costumes that look like the real thing, girls are expected to dress up in spoof ensembles, thus suggesting they can’t, or shouldn’t, do the real job.” (Huffington)

This offers a chance to talk to children about gender stereotypes.

Gender Switching

Halloween offers opportunity to try on new roles. For a lot of kids, they explore gender. Up until recently, female superheroes rarely appeared, so some girls would choose to be Superman or Batman… not their lame counterparts Supergirl and Batgirl. Parents may encourage their girls to choose Scientist and Doctor costumes. Middle school boys may think it’s hilarious to dress up like a girl.

All of these situations offer an opportunity to talk about gender identity.  Like the gender stereotypes addressed above: What roles are typically assigned to which gender and why? What is the difference between gender expression (how we choose to dress for one night or all the time) and gender identity (how we feel on the inside)? What appeals to them about that costume?

Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation

If a black child wanted to dress as Black Panther, you might think “hurray, he finally has a superhero who represents him”. But if a white child wants the same costume, is that unfair because he could be any other superhero, or is it good because he has a black hero that he looks up to? Different people have different answers to these questions, based on their own life experiences.

Here are some guidelines to consider:

  • Dress as a character, not the race. There’s a difference between dressing as Moana, a particular character whose adventurousness your child admires versus deciding to be “Hawaiian” for the day.  Cultural appreciation is “not  donning a Sombrero to be a Mexican; wearing a headscarf and calling yourself a Sheikh; or putting on a kimono and a bun to become a geisha.” (Fatherly)
  • No “blackface” – making your skin or hair look like a person of another race. (Fatherly)
  • Think first about the source culture. Is this a culture that has been historically discriminated against or oppressed (blacks, Native Americans)? (USA Today) If so, is it fair for you to be able to take the costume off at the end of the day, and not have to experience or think about any of the discrimination faced by that marginalized group?
  • Wearing something that was worn by a person in history – a knight’s armor or a Samurai’s armor is more fanciful. If you wear something “your neighbor might wear everyday — a sari, or a kimono, or hijab — then maybe that starts to cross the line.” (USA Today)
  • What’s the significance of what you’re taking? Is it something that is of major cultural significance, or maybe even something sacred, or is it just a run-of-the-mill ordinary item, an everyday commodity? (USA Today) Consider avoiding symbols of great significance to cultures other than your own.
  • If your child particularly admires another culture, then instead of dressing up as a member of that culture, you could instead study that culture, and buy items made by people of that culture to support their work, and participate in local cultural events to meet real people from that culture instead of fictional stereotypes. (CafeMom)
  • Another question that is worth asking: Is this something someone could and would choose? A common costume over the years has been a “bum”. It’s a simple costume because you can just take some old clothes, tear them up a little and add some “dirt.” But is it fair to dress up as a homeless person when you get to go home at the end of the day to a warm dry house?

However you choose to handle these situations in your family:

Halloween is an opportunity to have a conversation with your child about race, power, and privilege … No matter what you decide for your family, our hope is that you engage in reflections about how you may or may not be perpetuating stereotypes/racism. (Raising Race Conscious Children)

Read more about Talking to Your Children about Differences.

Heroes

One thing to consider is asking your child to use Halloween as an opportunity to explore their heroes – who do they look up to? who do they want to be like? And use that to guide their costume choice. (Read about superheroes as role models, and why we need heroes.)

Obscure or Commonplace

I have seen kids who were horribly disappointed when they see another kid wearing the same costume. I’ve seen others who were thrilled to find their match. I’ve seen kids who delighted in having an obscure costume, partially because they thought they were really cool to have an obscure interest. I’ve seen others who were really sad that not a single person they encountered recognized their costume. I had a group of friends, that back when an author named Lois McMaster Bujoldwas still fairly unknown, went to a science fiction convention dressed as Dendarii mercenaries, partially because it gave us an excuse to tell people that her books were great and they should be reading them.

With my kids, I’ve let them know when I thought there might be an issue and let them decide. “Hmmm… I bet there will be lots of other Marios. How would you feel if you ran into another one?” or “Hmmm… I’m not sure anyone will recognize that character. When you trick or treat, they’ll all ask you who you are. How will you answer?”

Home-Made Costumes

My older kids were blessed to have a Grandma who could sew anything. Each year in September, she would ask them what they wanted to be for Halloween. And whatever they said, she would make it happen. It evolved from teddy bear and kitten to Dorothy or a cowgirl, and then into a series of characters from video games and anime / manga. And every year a new creation would appear.

Halloween by Alice

By the time my youngest was born, my mom was starting to develop Alzheimer’s, so she was only able to make a few costumes for him. (The center photos in the top row.) So, his costumes come in a box from Amazon. They’re great costumes, but it’s just not the same… If you have a family member who sews and would be willing, ask them! This was such a special thing for my family, and a way my mom stayed connected to grandkids who lived 1000 miles away. Each year, it gave her an insight into what their current passions were.

Now, I know how to sew too. (How could I not, with a mom who was a home ec teacher!) But, as a working mom of young kids, I don’t think I’ve ever been up to making a full costume for my kids. But, if you search Pinterest, there’s countless ideas for home-made costumes that don’t require much time and effort, and can be fun for you and your child to have the satisfaction of having made something together. But, also know that sometimes you work really hard on something, and it doesn’t turn out like the child had hoped. It’s good to think about this in advance so you can decide how to respond if they ask not to wear that costume after all.

Costumes for Parents

Do you wonder if you should have a costume too? I say it’s up to you. If it makes you happy to dress up, then do it! Having a kid is a great excuse to play!

Personally, I HATE dressing up, so I opt out.

You do you.

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

conflict res

In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicate what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.