Q. We moved to this area from a farm, so this will be the first time our little boy can go trick-or-treating on Halloween.
Is this going to scare him? He is just 4 years old.
A. A child usually adores Halloween. It's the only day of the year when he can knock on a neighbor's door and walk away with a fistful of candy.
The costumes and traditions of Halloween delight a child even more, for they feed his sense of fantasy.
The imagination of a child is extraordinary, a mosaic not just of what's happened to him so far, but of the things he's never heard of. By adding to your child's sense of fantasy, you encourage him to marvel, to dream, to invent, in place of the knowledge he doesn't have yet. A child can -- and does -- figure out an answer to anything, but because so many facts are missing, it may be pretty odd. That's fine. You want your child to get in the habit of solving orthodox problems in unorthodox ways, as well as the ordinary ones.
The child who can let his mind stay free enough to do this will be the adult who paints the picture that enchants the world; who builds the bridge that couldn't be built; who teaches the child who was unteachable. He still conjures odd answers, but now he knows so much, he often finds solutions that others couldn't see.
A child finds fantasies out of the most mundane situations, but his imagination is enriched by fairy tales; Superman and Santa Claus; the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy -- and witches and goblins.
When the fantasy is scary, a child uses it to let his bad thoughts and wishes surface, for they are much easier to deal with in fairy tales than they are in himself.
A child can thrive on a story of good and evil, if the fantasy reflects his own struggles to grow up--and if they help him win them. That's why your little boy needs a costume, but not a witch or something wicked. Four is too young for that. Instead help him choose something heroic--the kind of character who could carry him out of whatever fearful situation he had invented.
Although some experts say a child enjoys playing a villain, a 4-year-old may have too many dragons to slay if he is dressed up like one. He can't be a villain in his dream without having it turn into a nightmare and if a young child plays that role it has the same effect when he looks into a mirror. Children are born to be heroes.
However, it will help him to be familiar with the ghouls he will see, before he ever sees them. Let him examine the masks at the dime store and when trick-or-treaters come to your door, ask them to lift their masks for a minute so they won't seem so awful.
Not all fantasies come from storybooks, movies and holidays. Some of the best will be the ones you invent to make the nightmares -- and the boredom -- go away.
We once had to invent a particularly charming tinman named Jake to help a child sleep in her own bed; chase an irascible bear named Harry out of the house at midnight with a broom (we sent him to live with a dear -- and irascible -- theater critic down the street) and, on a particularly dreary day, had a Candy Tree bloom lollipops instead of camellias.
And it still does, but only when small children come to call.
Q. "We have just moved to Silver Spring and I am interested in finding a Mother's Day Out program near us. I have two little girls, ages 2 and 1."
A. With two children that age, you need a regular respite. There's nothing as fine as one or two mornings a week to market alone or see the dentist or just have a little time to yourself.
Unfortunately, the Mother's Day Out programs, which have been such a good service in many area churches, are hard to find now, especially in Maryland.
There is a thriving one at Millian Memorial United Methodist Church at Parkland and Grenoble Drives in the Wheaton Woods subdivision. The program, for 67 children from 9:30-1:30 each Thursday, is $1 per hour per child.
Another program, 9:30-11:30 on Thursdays and Fridays, is at the First Methodist Church in Hyattsville. It is restricted, however, to 2-year-olds and costs $35 a month.