- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Q. I do not like the implications of Halloween, but my husband does, so we allow the kids to dress up as fun, positive characters. Our son is now 7 and is asking to go to the local haunted house. My husband thinks this is OK, but I would like to keep the negative aspects of Halloween out of the picture as much as possible. What say you?

A. Halloween may have its roots in ancient pagan rituals, but then so does the Christmas tree and the maypole. Personally, and speaking as an evangelical Christian, I think the brouhaha over Halloween is much ado about nothing, as is the brouhaha over the Harry Potter books.

I do believe there’s evil afoot in the world, but the notion that Halloween somehow lures children to the dark side is more than a tad over the top. The tradition is just pure childish fun, much healthier for children, in my estimation, than the orgy of materialism they’re exposed to at Christmas, or even the 6 o’clock news for that matter. My kids participated, to the fullest, in Halloween, as do my seven grandchildren, and none of them are more than normally evil.

Q. We go on regular family vacations with my in-laws, who disagree with us on most parenting matters. We home-school, correct poor manners, insist upon obedience and so on. Their kids spend most of their time watching television and playing video games.

They think we’re entirely too strict, which is understandable. However, they also feel justified in interfering when they don’t like how we’re dealing with our kids, whether it’s an instruction or a correction. How should we handle this?

A. First, I encourage you to stay the course in your parenting. The research overwhelmingly affirms that kids are more emotionally secure when parents set and enforce clear boundaries. Research is also affirming what I’ve been saying since 1979; that television and video games are actually disabling certain areas of children’s brains, greatly increasing the likelihood of behaviors associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Having said that, I think you need to accept that there’s nothing to be gained by trying to maintain your parenting style around relatives who not only don’t support you, but also downright undermine you, especially when you’re in close quarters for a week. So, given that the operative word here is “vacation,” I encourage you to give your kids a break from your rules and expectations during these family get-togethers.

Just so there’s no misunderstanding, tell the kids before you embark what you’re going to do, but that the break ends when you say goodbye and drive off for home. If during the holiday one of the in-laws steps on your parenting feet, just shrug your shoulders and say, “You know, you’re right, so I tell you what; you handle it.” And walk off.

In other words, give yourself permission to take a vacation.

From the Ruth Bell Graham (Intervarsity Press, $13). At our church, we allow children below age 6 to sit with their parents during the first half of the service. Immediately before the sermon, the children leave to attend worship education. This takes the mystery out of ‘big church’ and familiarizes them with the ins and outs of worship.”

Thanks, Donelle, for a very helpful contribution to this ongoing dialogue about children, parents, families and culture.

* Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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