Caring For Our Kids

Picking the best Halloween costume for your child

How is your favorite pumpkin dressed? PHOTO: LIZ FARRELL

It was barely september, and I was already receiving catalogs for Halloween costumes and seeing decorations and candy at Target and Walgreens. When this happens, almost immediately following in our household are the conversations and planning of what each child will be for Halloween. I love Halloween, but I don’t consider myself especially creative, so I don’t like to spend a lot of time with costumes.

Each age group has its own costume-choosing challenges: Young ones are indecisive and will inevitably change their minds several times before Halloween; an elementary school boy faces the challenge of a costume that’s not too gory or disturbingly scary; and don’t even get me started on the challenges for a middle-school girl.

Here are some tips to ensure a fun and safe Halloween for all ages:


A good first place to start for costume ideas is to focus on your children’s interests. Do they like superheroes, princesses, or occupations like firemen or ballerinas? Look for costumes especially for younger children that can be reused for dress up. Some of our best costumes over the years have been the ones that stay in the dress-up box and and get loads of use through the year, long after Halloween is over.

For older children, Pinterest boards are a great place to get ideas, especially for group costumes. You can help your children by setting price limits, and it can open a great opportunity to talk about costumes that are age-appropriate.
One of the best ways to find a creative one-of-a-kind costume is to make it yourself. On the popular website, the average kid’s costume ranges from $60–$90, so that can be great motivation to put something together on your own. Admittedly, I only actually “made” my daughter’s costume once when she was 1-year-old, but you can save a lot of money looking at second-hand stores or dollar stores for costumes, wigs, and makeup.


The key is to plan ahead — but not too far ahead — and then commit, especially if you plan to do it yourself. Looking for a certain fabric or a popular costume three days before can be daunting, especially when there are thousands of parents doing the same thing. Amazon Prime is a lifesaver but they can’t always work miracles.

For babies and toddlers who haven’t yet developed strong opinions, pick the costumes while you can because this phase of not knowing any differently doesn’t last long. For those with budding ideas and opinions, select three or four and then let them choose. Don’t take them to a Halloween store or you will never get out, and they will have nightmares for weeks after seeing scarier costumes.

For older children, where dressing up in a theme with friends is popular, try to settle on something in enough time for everyone to get the costume. The rule in our house is “the more the merrier,” meaning include everyone or as many others as possible.


In San Francisco, Halloween can be sunny and warm or cold and rainy, so keep this in mind when choosing a costume. Also important to consider is safety. Try to pick costumes that are comfortable and allow your children to move freely —  especially if they are running door to door or will be crossing streets and need to avoid traffic. This is true from head to toe: If your child’s costume requires a mask, make sure the eye openings are large enough so he or she can see clearly in all directions. For shoes, make sure they are sensible and easy to walk in even if they don’t perfectly fit the costume.

Last, make sure the costume can be removed easily for potty breaks. There is nothing like getting your little ones all dolled up only to have them tell you they have to go to the bathroom, and you have to do it all over again. Remember, if your children aren’t comfortable or get blisters, it won’t be just them who pay the price. It will make the night miserable for you also.

Spend some time as a family planning, and maybe even try a family theme like The Incredibles or Wizard of Oz — one of my favorite’s was the family who dressed as a mariachi band. Picking a Halloween costume can be a great time to encourage your child’s imagination, creativity, and independence, so avoid the stress, embrace it, and have fun!

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.