Watch out for costumes that represent cultures that your child doesn't identify with, as well as controversial figures like Confederate soldiers or serial killers. Costumes that stereotype prisoners, unhoused people or any other marginalized people aren't cool either.
There's a lot of costumes out there that are scary ... for the wrong reasons.
For instance, the "World War II Evacuee Girl" costume, while not marketed as a Halloween get-up on one website, is identical to one that was pulled from an online retailer in 2017 for its resemblance to Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
In 2016, Disney pulled a brown costume with tattoos that resembled Maui from the film "Moana" after accusations of "Polyface," aka the Polynesian version of blackface. And in 2020, Party City removed a children's Confederate solider costume from its franchise locations after the mother of two Black children called it out.
If your child asks for a Halloween costume that makes you nervous, experts say you should try to gently educate them.
"We shouldn’t shame kids about their enthusiasm for costumes — you can validate the idea that some people would find the costume to be interesting or funny, while others might be offended or judge the person wearing it," Emily Kline, a psychologist at Boston Medical Center tells TODAY.com.
And no big deal if you previously allowed a costume you would never approve of today, says Denver family therapist Sheryl Ziegler.
"You can say, 'It was OK then but now I know better,'" Ziegler tells TODAY.com. "We can keep learning and growing."
The following six Halloween costumes are examples of frightful Halloween choices. (There's a reason we blurred the faces of the innocent child models.)
TODAY.com did not hear back from most of the retailers when asked for comment.
Psych ward patient
A "psych ward patient" costume can magnify stereotypes that people with mental health issues are "crazy" and dangerous.
"Let your kids embrace their wild and crazy nature while still keeping them safe with this straight jacket for boys," reads the product description on Amazon. "This jacket is all the rage with the folks down at the asylum."
According to Kline, the author of “The School of Hard Talks: How to Have Real Conversations with Your (Almost Grown) Kids,” this costume could mock mental health.
"Costumes that portray psych patients as dangerous or scary can perpetuate stigma and fear of hospitals and the people in them," she says. "Hospitals can be life-saving for people experiencing psychiatric emergencies ... a 'psych ward' costume may discourage people from seeking help when they need it."
Do we really have to say it? A costume related to prostitution isn't for kids.
The "Child Cheetah Pimp Suit Costume" includes a leopard print coat and matching hat.
"The pimp costume is one of our oldest costumes that was made popular back in the early 2000s when shows like 'Pimp My Ride' and the song 'P.I.M.P.' By 50 Cent were popular," Johnathon Weeks, the founder of Costumeish, tells TODAY.com. "Pimp was a word that had major mainstream attention and costumes followed. We still sell a few children's pimp costumes each year; however it's not as popular as it was before."
Ziegler, author of the forthcoming book “Good and Ready: What Every Parent Urgently Needs to Know About Today’s Puberty, Middle Childhood and Mental Health" says some kids may not understand the meaning of a costume like this.
"The complexity with this type of costume is that the pimp image aligns with a lot of the music that appeals to teens, glamorizing a lifestyle with sex, money, drugs and private jets," she says.
She adds, "To many kids, being a pimp doesn't necessarily translate to sex work."
Ziegler suggests that parents tell kids who are interested in the costume: "This image is (upheld) in pop culture but we don't promote this personally."
The words “sexy” and “teen” don't belong together. Regardless, some pre-teen and teen costumes are advertised as "sexy."
If the "Teen Sexy Nurse" costume isn't questionable enough, the loaded term is also used to describe a Dorothy costume (from "The Wizard of Oz") and a ladybug "for any teenage girl looking to turn heads" on Halloween.
Isn't the goal of most parents NOT to sexualize their teenagers?
According to Francyne Zeltser, the clinical director of psychology, training and special projects at Manhattan Psychology Group, the word "sexy" is an inappropriate label for children's costumes.
"It sexualizes teenagers and removes the opportunity for young people to interpret the costume as they see it," Zeltser tells TODAY.com. "Marketing a kids' costume as 'sexy' can also dissuade many parents from purchasing it."
The "Deluxe Button Down Jailbird Costume for Kids" will have your child "sentenced for life," according to HalloweenCostumes.com's website.
"Show off that you’re a parent with iron resilience when you give your kiddo the grounding of a lifetime... or at least let them look like they feel that way!" reads the website.
With the United States holding more than 20% of the world’s prison population, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, cosplaying an incarcerated person can read as insensitive.
"When children dress up like someone in jail, it makes light of an experience that shouldn’t be trivialized," Rachael D. Robnett, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tells TODAY.com. "It can also dehumanize people who are in jail, which is already a dehumanizing experience."
Native American princess
Hello, cultural appropriation! A "Native American Girl Halloween Costume" isn't a good idea if it's worn by a child who is not part of the cultural or racial group represented.
"Native American is not a costume," states The National Museum of the American Indian on its website. "Often, the outfits people wear to look 'Indian' have nothing to do with Native people and cultures. Native American cultures are vastly diverse and have a wide range of traditions that determine the clothing and adornment Native people wear."
Ziegler suggests that parents of children who choose these costumes, say, "This dress is so beautiful and I can see why you want to wear it. If you're interested in Native American culture, let's check out some books from the library to learn more."
"This Halloween, dress up your baby in our most outrageous costume yet!" states Costumeish's website about its "Baby 'Pot for Tots' Marijuana Costume."
"The baby marijuana plant costume is just the right combo of cute and edgy that is sure to get stares and laughs from everyone," the site reads.
Johnathon Weeks, the founder of Costumeish, tells TODAY.com:
"The Baby Marijuana Costume has always been a top-selling item, especially in states like California, Colorado and Washington."
Despite the popularity, Robnett, notes that children should not be wearing costumes they can't understand.
"Keep in mind that babies and toddlers can’t veto a costume choice, nor do they have a say in whether their photos are posted online," she says. "A respectful approach to parenting is to think through how the children might feel about these pictures when they’re older."