My toddler is cute. At least I think so. But do you know what else he is? Scared… no, TERRIFIED… of costumes.
And face paint.
And the Easter Bunny.
And (obviously) Santa.
And sometimes even Daddy’s shaving cream.
In all honesty, I’m not overly concerned with this little phobia of his. Why? Well, mostly because he’s utterly fearless (read: a totally insane nut job) in pretty much every other category of his life. Scale a wall without adult supervision? Sign him up. Jump off of said-wall, again without adult supervision? Yes please. Water slides? Yup. Trampolines? All day. Dive, head first, into a bounce house/ ball pit/group of humans… YAS YAS and YAS.
So frankly, there is a very real part of me that finds my otherwise audacious toddler’s fear of costumes to be somewhat endearing. Healthy, even.
That being said, it does pose a wee bit of a challenge when I want to snag that adorable photo of my son on the Easter Bunny’s lap this month. Or when we trek out to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park every other Saturday to cheer on Daddy, only to spend 86% of the game ducking-and-weaving to avoid an encounter with the infamous mascot, Edson. And, of course, it will be a real force-to-be-reckoned-with if we ever get our life together to visit Disney World. Can you even imagine?
With those scenarios in mind, my husband and I have committed to help our little dude better navigate this fear — and hopefully, one day, conquer it. At least by his first themed mixer in college, anyway. Priorities, right?
After plenty of researching and marinating, here is the short-list of tactics we’ve deemed sensible and deployable for diffusing our guy’s disdain of all-things-costumed:
Play dress up. A lot.
Instead of trying to tell him there’s nothing to fear (“Don’t worry! There’s a totally normal, not-scary-at-all, probably-kind-hearted person behind that evil-looking, zombie-eyed face mask!”), we figure it might be more effective to show him how these costume things actually work. We’ll start slow with playful bunny ears or silly slippers, and hopefully build up to full-body dress-up attire over time. Masks, most likely, will be the last thing we add into the mix. That only feels fair, considering eyes are the window to the soul and all that.
While it’s tempting to opt out of situations that we know will induce fear (Mascot en route? Perfect time for a bathroom break!), my gut tells me that evasion won’t do anybody any favors down the road of life. So, instead of going to great lengths to ensure our tiny tot doesn’t ever feel the sensation of fear (cue the ‘helicopter mom’ alarm bells), we’re planning to face it head-on… albeit with reasonable care. For example, we will still pay a visit to our pal the Easter Bunny; but perhaps we’ll sit on his (or her!) lap together. We won’t flee for the hills when a mascot stomps into our section; but maybe we won’t dive right into a selfie with him either. The goal is to find a healthy balance of embracing safe opportunities for our son to observe and interact with costumed figures, while also allowing his perspective on the issue to evolve at a pace that is comfortable to him.
Talk, talk, talk about it!
I’m a big fan of communication. I am a writer, after all. I’m wired to discuss — as opposed to suppress — life’s greatest conundrums. Often those discussions start with my family. I really, truly consider open familial discourse to be an imperative tool in processing, owning, and overcoming tough situations. That’s why we’ll be making a point to chat about this issue as a family unit a little more often over the next few months. Not in an over-the-top, formal kind of way, but in a natural, “this is what’s going on in our life” kind of way. Frankly, there’s no better time to instill an affinity for communication than at the ripe age of two, when the obstacle is nothing more than an innocent fear of costumes. Because let’s not kid ourselves: the issues only get more complex — and the stakes higher — from here on out.
…speaking of which, is it too late to recant my previous comment about themed college mixers? Sigh. Circle back with me in 2033 on that one. As for now, you’ll find me relishing in the fact that today’s primary parenting challenge is coping with an adorable skepticism of humans in disguise.
I’ll take it. Excessive dress-up and all.