Your kid agonized over their Halloween costume, you made three trips to the store — and now they want to be something else.
That can feel upsetting for parents who spend effort (and money) on Halloween prep, but according to psychologist Francyne Zeltser, it's normal for kids to feel fickle about their costumes.
"Some children change their minds about costumes once a week or go back and forth between three different options," Zeltser, the clinical director of psychology, training and special projects at Manhattan Psychology Group, tells TODAY.com. "The question is, how much time do you have to make a final decision and what other options do you have?"
Blame children's indecision on choice overload or Halloween mania that starts during summer vacation. Spirit Halloween opened its flagship store in July, while retailers like Party City sell Halloween costumes all year round.
"Most consumers will start shopping for Halloween sometime in September or the first two weeks in October," a spokesperson from the National Retail Federation tells TODAY.com. "Last year 47% of consumers said they start shopping for Halloween before October, which is up from 36% in 2017."
Zeltser adds that the ease of online shopping makes ordering a costume (or two or three) and returning or exchanging a whim decision, compared to when past Halloweens meant one trip to a costume store.
Here's how parents can guide children toward a choice they're happy with and avoid meltdowns on Halloween night.
Start brainstorming Halloween costumes early
If your kid develops specific interests in a television show, video game or historical character, write it down, as it could inspire a costume idea, suggests Zeltser.
Then, six weeks before Halloween, revisit the list with your child to ascertain their enthusiasm. Kids might also vet costume ideas with people whose opinions they value, like siblings or friends.
Help narrow the list by asking: Do you want a funny, cute or scary theme? Is it more important to match your friends or look different? Do you prefer a store-bought or homemade costume?
Zeltser says kids can visualize by looking at screenshots or printed photos of different costumes. Otherwise, some AI tools have "head swap" options to place an image of your child's head on, for example, a model wearing the costume of their choice.
Try on Halloween costumes ASAP
Whether or not you have the bandwidth to visit the Halloween store 47 times or spend hours online shopping, is up to you.
When your child does choose a costume, have them wear it around the house, to make sure the look and fit is comfortable.
Zeltser suggests keeping weather in mind — does your kid need to wear a coat over or under their costume or trade a prop for an umbrella?
If kids are stuck between two options, mull a backup costume. That doesn't always mean purchasing a second costume, as you may still have last year's get-up, a hand-me-down, or cobble a costume together with items in your closet.
Zeltser points out that Halloween is typically celebrated all month long — with school celebrations, town festivals and house parties — creating multiple opportunities to wear different costumes and preserve those memories in photos.
Help kids make peace with their costume choice
What happens if your kid makes a final choice and they're still unhappy?
Sometimes the only conclusion is, “We have a costume, you can either wear it or your backup,” says Zeltser.
You can advise your child that costumes aren't the only Halloween tradition — it's also about staying out with friends, catching a spooky thrill and eating candy.
"Setting reasonable and realistic expectations are important," says Zeltser. "Costumes can tear, weather can be lousy, neighbors can run out of candy and someone will not win the best costume award. Remember that it's not a situation itself that leads to disappointment, rather the child’s interpretation of it."