We all remember the feeling as children: the giddy nervousness of passing a partially open coffin or a scary skeleton on a front porch .. the anticipation of ringing a doorbell draped in thick, cottony cobwebs … the rush of excitement as the door opens and you discover which candy will be added to your bulging bag of treats.
It’s chocolate! To eat it now, or to put it in your basket for tomorrow? Now, of course! There is no such thing as too much candy!
The gaiety, the costumes, the anticipation, the community, the decorations, the jack-o-lanterns, the cool October air: Halloween is truly in a league of its own when it comes to holiday celebrations.
Yet the same things that make Halloween a treat for many children can make it a really tricky experience for children who live with sensory processing difficulties, struggle with anxiety, or are on the autism spectrum.
So what is a parent who wants their children to enjoy this experience to do? Here are some tips for making Halloween happier for children who have complex challenges:
#1: Watch the costumes.
Many Halloween costume components can serve as potential triggers for highly sensitive children. Try to avoid tags, seams, tightness around the neck, oily face paints or anything else that might elicit a negative reaction. If the fabrics, face coverings and capes of traditional costumes are going to cause problems, just skip them entirely.
Wondering what options that leaves you with? White sweatpants and a baggy white t-shirt transform into an excellent ghost costume. A jersey and sweatpants create a convincing sports player. And all it takes to be a princess is the right attitude!
#2: Prepare and review.
Let’s face it: Halloween, like many holidays, is filled with stimulation. Consider using a social story to help your child feel more comfortable with the traditions and activities. You can also preview the trick-or-treat route with your child and show them pictures of popular costumes on the Internet so they know what to anticipate.
The unruly festivity that often accompanies Halloween may lead children to think that the usual rules of neighborhood decorum are off for the night. Be sure to set your expectations for behavior by reviewing the rules many times during the week before trick-or-treating.
#3: Remember to sleep.
If Halloween is going to be a late night for your family, try to ensure your children get a good night’s sleep on the days leading up to trick-or-treating.
#4: Stick with the sun.
If school ends at 3:30 and you can manage it with your work schedule, you may want to trick-or-treat while it is still daylight outside. Be sure to check your town or neighborhood’s schedule for hours open to trick-or-treating. Even in late October, you can usually get a couple of hours in before the sun goes down. You will tend to find the youngest children out earlier and – bonus! – perhaps a less frantic atmosphere.
#5: Leave it at the curb.
If unexpected visitors tend to upset your child, you can fill a pumpkin bucket with candy and leave it outside your door or even at the curb. (Maybe consider adding a sign to “take one please” and hope that your visitors leave some for others!) The neighborhood kids will appreciate the easy candy, and your kiddo will have peace of mind against constant interruptions.
#6: Remember to have fun!
Halloween is a time to celebrate with your family before winter’s chill really sets in. If what you are doing isn’t fun, simply don’t do it. (And if your child cannot handle the Halloween festivities but is envious of the candy, consider negotiating a small gift.)
Remember: the costumes, the candy and the decorations are all merely luxuries. When it comes to raising a child with complex challenges, sometimes it is beneficial to make lemons into lemonade; other times, though, it is better to just leave those lemons on the shelf (and indulge in some candy instead!).