Making Your Halloween a Treat, Not a Trick

Deanna Maciocce, MS,OTR/L

As we think back to our childhood, Halloween was a time of laughter and fun for most of us. It meant getting dressed up as your favorite character, wearing a plastic mask, and running through the neighborhood trying to collect as much candy as you could. Throughout the most recent years, Halloween as a holiday has continued to grow in popularity and is becoming more of a decorated affair. And although it is enjoyed by many children, oftentimes younger children and those that experience a lot of anxiety tend to find it less than enjoyable and fun. With the increase in decorated yards that try to portray the most fear and gore they can, and all the stores that carry the materials, getting around the neighborhood can be tough. And costumes have gone from simple to complex. In addition, what was once a one-day holiday, now includes a month-long celebration with events at the zoo, the mall, school and your local community, all before the actual holiday. From wearing a costume to shopping to even trick-or-treating, some children need a little extra help preparing. So here are just few ways to help make your Halloween fun and full of the right amount of “Boo!”

Costumes—Since costumes are based on your child’s likes, these can be very exciting and fun (and expensive!) to do. Dressing up as a superhero, doctor, princess, pirate, animal or the like allows children of all ages to explore their creativity and imagination. However, for some children who have issues with clothing, whether it be the tactile feeling of the material or the bulkiness of it, frustrations and meltdowns may happen. Therefore, try to help guide your child by exploring his or her interests and knowing any clothing concerns. For children with tactile issues, you may have to plan this out early so you can creatively piece together the costume or choose a costume that will allow your child to wear comfortable clothing underneath. Choosing a costume that is easy to put on and take off allows the child to wear the costume for short periods at a time. And you can keep it simple—accessories are sometimes just enough, or a fun Halloween t-shirt can do the trick. Make sure you practice wearing the costume prior to the event so you know if it causes any discomfort. Keep it simple, and never force your children to dress up; help them find their comfort place. 

Decorations—You can’t really drive down a neighborhood street and not see a Halloween display in a yard. But unlike Christmas, many of these displays are trying to achieve the largest scare or produce the most gore. While this might excite some individuals, it can be really scary for others, producing a sense of anxiety. Once a scary house is discovered, replanning your path home or making a simple distraction as you drive by may help.

For many parents, walking into a Halloween store is basically out of the question due to the overwhelming displays that are seen, but this is easy to avoid. However, simply walking through your local stores can still become difficult, as they are also trying to display their “best” Halloween decor. So, if you can avoid the Halloween store or shop without your child, that is highly recommended. But getting through your local Target on your own may not be as easy. And if your child has already had a negative experience, getting them back into the store may be difficult. Always talk to your child about how the stuff is not real, and help to find humor in it. When you have your child with you, try to plan your list so that you do not have to be in or near that section. Finding ways to distract your child may help, but we know that anxiety and fear lingers and can build up. If children are small enough to sit in the cart, have them hold an item to look at, engage in conversation as you are going past those areas, or simply close their eyes.

Trick or Treating—If you have made it through the preseason in the store and are able to make it out the door with a costume on, you are in good shape! But now you are asking your child to handle people throughout the neighborhood as well as go up to someone’s door and talk. So, do not go to houses of people you do not know; choose the neighbors you do know. Try to trick-or-treat in a group with friends or relatives so that the focus is more on the fun and interaction versus the participation of talking. Keep this part simple by limiting the number of houses you go to, or do it in spurts of time.             

You may also want to choose planned events, such as trick-or-treating at the zoo or inside your local mall. This also takes away the aspect of the weather and it being dark outside. But it still means your child has to go up and interact with people. In addition, these events typically take the scare effect away, making them very child friendly.

If you have a child with anxiety, you know that it does take effort to make any of these strategies work to alleviate it. Oftentimes, in regard to décor, once these images are seen, it is hard for many children to get them out of their heads. This can lead to bad dreams at night or even just an outburst out of blue. If that happens, always make sure to validate your child’s worry, fear and concern. And although we want our children to be strong and know that these things are not real, it can be very traumatizing, so do not push or force children to have to participate.