Happy Halloween

Fall is a time of the year that many people seem to look forward to and enjoy. This season is filled with the anticipation of changing leaves, apple and pumpkin picking, and of course all of the events surrounding and leading up to Halloween.  Although the traditional preparation and activities involved with Halloween may be a fun and exciting for most families, a reasonable number of children may also find this time to be filled with frightening decorations, uncomfortable costumes, and unpredictable sounds and surprises.  The anticipation of encountering these holiday stressors may cause a child to experience anxiety and discomfort in the presence of Halloween events.  As individuals who celebrate Halloween by distributing candy, Trick-or-Treating, and attending costume parties, it is important to remain aware of these stressors, do our best to prepare our children for this event, modify the environment to address their concerns, and provide every child with the opportunity to participate in this exciting holiday. 

In the last few years, there has been a powerful quote shared throughout social media that has raised awareness of the challenges that many children may face during the events that surround this fright-filled holiday.  It reminds us to remain open minded about each individual child’s needs and be aware of our ability to remain patient and try to understand that the children we see celebrating this day may be facing their own obstacles in order to engage in the various Halloween activities. 

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a program that facilitates a safer, healthier and happier Halloween for the large amount of children who have allergies and are unable to participate in the traditional trick-or-treating experience.  The teal pumpkin signifies non-food related items that will be given out by the house, for example bubbles, necklaces, jacks, and puzzles to name a few.  By placing a teal painted pumpkin in front of your house, these children will be able to have a great experience with their friends.   

Tonight a lot of creatures will visit your door. Be open- minded. The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy might have poor fine motor skills. The child who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy might have motor planning issues. The child who does not say “trick or treat” or “thank you” might be painfully shy, non-verbal, or selectively mute. If you cannot understand their words, they may struggle with developmental speech.  The child who looks disappointed when he sees your bowl might have an allergy. The child who isn’t wearing a costume at all might have SPD or autism. Be kind, be patient, smile, pretend you understand. It’s everyone’s Halloween.

When reading the above quote, it may seem easy to remain patient and understanding throughout the day of Halloween. However, there are additional steps we can take to help prepare children for the excitement of the day and provide them with an environment that will promotetheir ability to participate in the holiday activities while remaining aware of their needs and concerns. Here are some tips and strategies to ease the stress of Halloween and assist in creating a fun and interactive day. Do you have any additional tips that have been helpful for your family on Halloween? Please share in the comments below!

Prepare your child for the holidaytraditions:

Discuss some of the traditions and activities that surround Halloween. Read a book, create a social story, or role-play some of the events they may experience.  Establish and review the rules and boundaries regarding certain activities (i.e. Trick-or-Treating or approaching strangers).

Be flexible when choosing and wearing a costume:

Remember that an outfit does not need to be elaborate to be considered a costume. Be aware of the costume’s qualities including the texture, beading, stiffness, and restrictiveness. Allow your child to try out various costumes and decide which is best for him. Let your child know that he may change his costume as needed, or may participate in Halloween activities without a costume if preferred. Practice wearing the costume at home to become familiar with the fit and to become accustomed to others’ reactions to the outfit.

Map out a pre-planned Trick-or-Treat route:

In the upcoming weeks, travel around your town and be aware of houses that may be too scary or areas that may become very busy during the Trick-or-Treating hours. Prepare a route to follow that avoids large crowds, loud noises, scary decorations, and heavy traffic.  If possible, go to houses or friends or family members.  Prepare your child and remind them that they can pass by houses that may have too many children at the door, people with scary costumes, or frightening decorations.

Practice the sequence of walking to the door, saying “trick-or-treat”, putting the treat in the bag, and saying thank you. Remember that even a short Trick-or-treat session can be fun!

If your child does not want to Trick-or-Treat, choose alternative activities:

Trick-or-treating is not mandatory. Meaningful participation in Halloween activities can include making Halloween crafts, carving a pumpkin, bobbing for apples, watching Halloween themed movies, or even handing out candy at home.  Choose activities that benefit your child’s needs.

Focus on your child’s sensory diet to prepare for the Halloween activities:

Complete heavy work and proprioceptive activities at home prior to engaging in exciting Halloween events. Provide your child with exercises or activities that will promote regulating his body in preparation for a busy day filled with many stimulating events.

Consider noise-canceling headphones during events that may have loud music, large crowds, or unexpected sounds from decorations.

Allow all children to participate in party games and activities:

Although some children may enjoy getting messy and carving a pumpkin, this activity may cause other children discomfort. Allow children to decorate pumpkins with markers or stickers. Show children that a dark or overwhelming room can be modified by turning on the lights, decreasing music volume, and covering decorations.

Be aware of the various “treats” that your child is given:

Many candies and foods may contain allergens and trigger food sensitivities. Establish rules on making sure an adult checks the “treats” before the child eats them. Be aware of “hidden” ingredients such as soy, milk products, and red-dye.

Monitor your child’s behaviors and reactions throughout these Halloween events:

Throughout these Halloween events, it is important to remain alert and aware of your child’s behaviors and arousal level to help them fully participate in the desired holiday activities.  Some things to consider include limiting the duration and number of people and activities, give your child notice and advanced sequence of the upcoming events, and practice using phrases such as “is it my turn?” and “please don’t touch my costume”.

Know when your child is giving you signs that it is time to disengage from an activity. Recognize the signs of sensory overload including fatigue, crying, easily frustrated, and increased level of arousal or excitement. Provide your child with a quiet and safe environment when activities become too overwhelming.

Preparing your children for Halloween and providing them with a safe and understanding environment will encourage them to participate in the various holiday festivities and enjoy a day filled with fun and exciting events for everyone!

Liana Spiciarich, MS OTR/L

Sara Rutledge, MS OTr/L