In Defense of Letting Kids Pick Their Own Halloween Costume

Megan Zander

I've always loved playing with dolls and all things dress-up and pretend, so when I found out I was having twin boys, I thought I had won the Halloween costume lottery. Even though they were born in the dead of winter, I immediately started knitting two tiny pumpkin hats (they were preemies, so the tiny hats took about 10 minutes each to make) and started Pinning matching costume ideas that were sure to score them all the candy and compliments. 

But almost as soon as they learned the word, "No," my kids started to have their own ideas about what they wanted to wear on Halloween. I admit that at first, I pushed back. After all, I'm the parent, and trolling the neighborhood for chocolate was more fun for me when they did it as a matched set of my choosing. But I've come to realize that mandating what your kid gets to be for Halloween is actually a pretty witchy thing to do. So this year, I gave my kids full creative control in the costume department. I realized that just like decorating pumpkins or bobbing for apples, letting kids pick their own Halloween costume is one fall tradition all parents should get behind. 


Megan Zander

For the first few years of their lives, before they're aware of what Halloween is all about and why the doorbell keeps ringing, of course, parents should have fun dressing babies and small toddlers as whatever they want. A Dalmatian puppy to match your Cruella Di Vil look? You deserve at least that for all the middle-of-the-night feedings you do. A little lamb because their nickname is Lambchop? Do it, and please send me all the adorable pictures. I had a blast dressing the boys as pumpkins, as Buzz and Woody, as duel Daniel Tigers to match my Katerina Kittycat costume (complete with tutu). 

But once they hit the preschool age, they start to understand that Halloween is a night where all the kids of the world play a giant game of dress-up together. Between commercials, all the costumes on display in stores and well-meaning strangers asking what they're going to be for Halloween,  they may have their own ideas on what they wanted to wear, and as parents, we should really try to honor their vision. 

Sure, it's easy to come up with reasons as to why we as the moms and dads should get to pick our kids Halloween costumes. My kids can barely choose between mac and cheese and a hot dog, and more often than not, the path to the final answer is littered with tears. I used this as my justification for picking their costumes last year -- narrowing down the giant selection to a few options I thought were cute and letting them pick from those. And who among us hasn't used the fact that their child can't read against them? "Oh, sorry sweetie, the boring cat costume people will think I threw together at the last minute doesn't come in your size. But look, a mermaid!"  

Megan Zander

But the truth is, no one's going to deny your child candy based on the fact that they don't like their costume. And people are likely too concerned with their own kids to do more than glance at what other kids are wearing. In truth, when we force our costume choices on our kids, we're being selfish. As long as what they want to wear pose no safety concerns, like a robe so long they can't walk easily, why would we sour what should be a great day for them?

Obviously, being the Good Witch when it comes to Halloween costumes is easier said than done. Last October I battled hard with Remy over him wanting to dress as a carton of milk. He thought "drinking" himself was hilarious and pleaded for the costume. I thought he was picking it on a whim, so I pathetically told him it was too close to cannibalism and forced him into a dragon suit instead. He still had fun collecting candy, but looking back on pictures he's not smiling as wide as his brother. I loved that costume. I laughed every time I looked at him because he was so cute in it, but I still feel bad that I ultimately made the choice for him. 

This year, I thought I had the perfect solution to the Halloween costume power struggle. The boys fell in love with Harry Potter over the summer -- watching the movies, asking to read the books, and running around the house turning everything from wooden spoons to the plunger into magic wands. I knew Hogwarts robes were easy to find as costumes, so I thought they'd love to be wizards for Halloween. The robes even came in the colors of their favorite Hogwarts houses. I was so smug on the way to the store, imagining how cute my family would look with the boys in their robes and me and their father in our matching Hogwarts shirts. 

Instead, we got to the costume aisles (after a brief pit stop to press all the buttons on all the Halloween decorations that light up and make spooky sounds) and the boys blazed by the Hogwarts robes without a second glance. 

After an hour of going through all their options, telling myself over and over that it's their choice, and busting open a bag of mini Kit Kats to help me keep my mouth closed and my opinions to myself, they picked out their own Halloween costumes. This year, I'll be chaperoning Iron Man and an avocado door to door. 

Megan Zander

As pleased as I am with myself for letting them have body autonomy, if I'm being honest, I'm not thrilled with their choices. My kids have never actually watched any of The Avengers or Iron Man movies, so if anyone gives Remy a pop quiz about his costume's origins, his knowledge base is limited: "It's red!" And for a kid who's already accident prone, I'm worried that sugar high plus a full face mask might lead to a trip to the emergency room as he misses a curb going from house to house. 

As someone who prides themselves on not being a slave to trends, I'm a little embarrassed to have a child in such a basic, clique superhero costume that so many other kids will be probably be wearing. A 5-year-old dressed as Iron Man on Halloween is like a mom ordering a PSL before hitting the aisles at Target. However, PSLs are delicious, so I understand him loving his Iron Man costume, even if it is super popular. 

As for Lolo's avocado, I tried hard to get him to try on the taco, the doughnut, the unicorn -- pretty much any other costume. He doesn't even eat avocados. And it's clearly designed for college girls who are looking to avoid the teeny, tiny scraps of fabric that typically pass as women's Halloween costumes. On them, it would be playfully ironic. On a 5-year-old, it looks like a Troll doll costume who's belly jewel has gone cancerous. But it's green, and it's soft, it's a food, and he's thrilled with it. 

We work hard to teach our kids that their bodies are their own. We patiently discuss with them what to do if someone put their hands on them without permission or tell them they don't have to hug or high five a stranger if they don't feel like it. Letting them have final say on what they wear on Halloween is a natural extension of teaching them they have control over their person. Having kids who are confident and happy on Halloween is worth having my Instagram dreams of clever and unique costumes shattered. And matter what they wear to trick or treat, I know I still get to share their chocolate.

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