Next Wednesday, the tiniest walking shark in Boston will be knocking on my door in search of treats. My downstairs neighbor turned two this summer, and this is the first Halloween that he is old enough to “get” the idea of trick or treating. I am excited to finally have a trick-or-treater come to my third floor apartment, although I don’t imagine many other costumed kids will be finding their way to my door.
I have been somewhat surprised to hear how thrilled the high-schoolers at my practicum are for Halloween as well, and not just for the free candy (although that is certainly a draw). They enjoy donning masks and wigs, painting their faces, and adopting a new persona for an evening just as much as the younger set (and some adults!). Halloween provides a much-needed outlet for kids’ imagination and the opportunity to present themselves to the world as someone else.
But, while we can see and touch the masks kids wear on Halloween, the invisible masks kids wear everyday can be harder to recognize. And that is an important part of our work as (future) schools psychologists; helping kids to see their true selves, and to feel that they can safely reveal those selves to the world. Taking off these masks is not an easy task – it includes recognizing and accepting personal strengths and weaknesses, coping with unsettling emotions, and being comfortable with vulnerability – undertakings that are difficult for adults, too. I feel challenged to be supporting kids in counseling and therapeutic group settings, and to be accompanying them as they try on and take off different masks. Luckily I can hand out candy all year.