Kids' brains grow every day, but one favorite holiday based around spooky ghouls and dressing up can have more cognitive benefits than you'd believe. And despite all the candy that flows the streets on October 31st, a sugar rush is not the only thing going on in kids' brains on the scariest day of the year. We talk with a local youth development expert and learn about how to improve mental health on Halloween.
About our sources:
Danica Jamison, President and CEO of the Greater Gallatin United Way in Bozeman, MT, has a background in positive youth development, has a background in informal youth education, promotes the Gallatin Early Childhood Community Council, and to top it all off, is a mother herself.
Zoe, 13, Logan, 11, Carter, 6, and Trevor, 3. For the Walker family, Halloween is more than just a holiday. They host an annual Halloween party for friends and family, leading to a massive trick-or-treat around their neighborhood. And most years, they have a family theme (this year's "Old McDonald Had a Farm," Little Trevor's favorite song).
Below are a few examples of how October 31st is actually molding young minds.
What is the one skill that many educators and employers feel is doping in students and adults? Communication.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says that his / her work is most in demand by employers, pulling from the United States' top 100 cities, and found that by far the "number one skills gap" in the country.
But Danica Jamison says it is a skill that can be easily garnered on Halloween. Some ways to do this is by encouraging children to give their eyes to the person who gave them candy. Using a full voice and engaging with the homeowner in unexpected ways (like asking how their day is going, or commenting on their costume – if applicable) are bonuses.
"Those seagulls like small things," Jamison acknowledges, "but for a kid to be comfortable with confidence and engaging with another person? It makes a really big difference as a kids grow … and eventually become a worker where clear communication is really important. "
2. PERSPECTIVE TAKING
Halloween is a chance for children to take on the perspective of others in a number of ways. They are not just talking to each other – literally taking on the perspective of another person – they can also test out interpersonal perspective-taking by paying attention to their neighbors' non-verbal cues.
Hunter Walker says that he and Lindsey are trying to teach their children to listen to their neighbors are telling them on Halloween. For example, if the lights are off, it's a sign that the homeowners do not want anyone knocking on their door.
"And we're trying to teach our kids to respect that … and just to be aware of that, and just about respecting everybody else," Hunter says.
But lessons in empathy do not stop there.
Hallow's Eve, and it could be for a reason as simple as a friend getting the piece of candy that your child wants. Jamison says "What do you think it feels like your friend right now? What do you think he or she is thinking? "
"Noticing what other likes and dislikes are about taking others' perspectives," Jamison explains. "Sometimes it even means an act of compassion. And a kid will say, 'Well, I'll give you my Snickers bars, since that's what you really like.' "
And that empathy can translate into one's life. In the Walker household, that means the older kids will turn into "miniature adults" on Halloween.
Halloween trick-or-treater instead of the [regular] trick-or-treater, "Lindsey says.
Halloween is one of the only times of the year where kids will come into contact with strangers – on the stranger's home turf. And while statistics show crime does not take place on the last day of October (in fact, quite a bit).
For most parents, when it comes to their children, safety is always on the mind-but how does that change on Halloween? Mostly, experts say, it's about laying down ground rules and kids learning reasoning (knowing whether or not it's a safe situation, recognizing when it's time to head home).
Kerri Totty, a hand therapist at Harris Methodist, tells Fort Worth Hospital WebMD. "Children are so excited about that they're not using their normal safety sense."
Most Halloween injuries and deaths are caused by vehicles. If you or your children are going trick-or-treating after dark, be sure to bring a flashlight so that you can see … and be seen.
Halloween wants to stick in their minds throughout the year.
At least for the Walkers, "We've just released a few of those Halloween safety things," Lindsey says, "and they're talking about it all year around. I feel like Halloween. It's kind of that self-awareness piece. "
4. BRAIN BUILDING AND ORGANIZATION
Making connections can be an especially important skill for younger kids to learn on October 31st, And so Halloween is always a time for fun, parents can quietly use the holiday to teach their younger children some basic mental building blocks and social skills.
Once the candy is gathered on October 31stst, what's next? Seeing as most kids will not be able to eat all of their earnings the night of, it becomes an interesting social experiment with their newly-acquired, valuable commodity. Some kids want to try their luck, others want to get their candy in a corner, and others want to organize their treats. If parents encourage their younger children, especially those under the age of 5, to take a second look at their candy, it can be a helpful way for young minds to start recognizing similarities and differences. Children may organize by color, shape, flavor, or personal value.
Jamison explains that, "Oh, they're just playing with their candy." "But," he says "essential connections called making connections." "Making connections to make things happen." But that's all, Jamison says, with that simple life skill of being able to recognize similarities and differences.
5. FOCUS AND SELF-CONTROL
On Halloween, it's not uncommon for someone to leave a basket of candy outside, "Please take one." Jamison suggests parents take the time to explain the rules: reminding them In the child's basket, it has become more and more important.
"Jamison emphasizes," that's a great skill. It'll have life-long impacts. "
Skills like these are constantly formed into parent-child relationships, but on a night that's fun for both parents and kids, so it can be useful to sneak in some helpful lessons.
"These skills," Jamison explains, "they start out right as the baby's born, but all through life … these are skills that can be further developed, even as adults, into making more successful children and adults."
If you're planning to take your kids trick or treating this year, just remember that you can develop your kid's brain.