“What’s this?” our incredibly curious toddler asked.
“A dead worm,” I responded. Hmm, I do not recall ever using the word “dead” with him. What did he make of it? I couldn’t tell him it was just a worm because he already discovered how live ones move, feel, and taste. Although “dead” didn’t seem to fully register, it continued his exposure to death.
There are going to be many conversations that are uncomfortable and to which I do not have the answers and I may wish I responded differently. I thought about the dead worm off and on for weeks after it happened especially after Halloween paraphernalia infiltrated our grocery stores weeks ago and as neighborhood yards are now decorated with ghosts, graveyards, and mummies.
“What’s this?” This is a zombie.
“What’s this?” It’s a tombstone.
“What’s this?” This is a skull.
“What’s this?” This is a plate with a Día de los Muertos design.
And so I began to wonder how do I want our children to understand and celebrate Halloween? They are quite young (2.5 and 1), but I do not think it’s too early to consider and our oldest toddler is beginning to understand.
Ultimately I would like our children to understand there are many ways to celebrate Halloween, or not celebrate it, in addition to Trick-or-Treat night and cute photo opportunites to post to Facebook and Instagram. And here! I couldn’t resist.
As an elementary school teacher, I taught many students whose families did not participate in Halloween class parties or dress in costumes because of their religious beliefs. Some believed that it
is a pagan holiday associated with witchcraft and satanic worship. Other students, especially in Texas, celebrated Día de los Muertos, a celebration and honoring of deceased family members and friends that continues to November 1st for the Catholic observance of All Saints Day and November 2nd for All Souls Day. Then as a class we also examined how Halloween is celebrated around the world. Teaching children to respect and be sensitive to each individual’s beliefs was a balancing act and multicultural approach. Through these times I deepened my own understanding and appreciation for these differences especially in honoring the lives of loved ones. I want to share this diversity awareness and tolerance with our children as well as a curiosity for learning.
Depending on a child’s age, personality, and life experiences, Halloween may be a natural time to talk about death and loved ones who have passed away. Perhaps as our children are more exposed we will use some observances of Día de los Muertos to honor and celebrate those lives.
Here are a few ways to remember those who have passed away that do not involve ghosts, zombies, or trick-or-treating:
Death is all around us and kids are more exposed to it than we may realize. It’s in Disney movies. It’s in nature with dead worms and plants. For some children it may be in the death of a beloved pet or family member. It’s a natural part of the plant and animal experience; every living thing eventually dies.
If your child wants to know more about death, here are a few tips on how to navigate those conversations: