Halloween can be the perfect storm for children who struggle with changes in routine, social gatherings, crowds, surprises, following directions and/or impulse control.
The sights and sounds, the anticipation and excitement of the day, large groups of people, and wearing an uncomfortable costume for hours! Not to mention the pressures associated with trick or treating — running from house to house, talking to strangers and eating your way into a sugar coma!!
The expectations of the day — while considered ‘fun’ to many — may come off as a threat to your child’s sensory and nervous systems. Once the fight or flight response is activated, watch out for the Halloween overload!
If you’re looking for some ways to help your child navigate Halloween with less tricks and more treats, I’ve got you covered! Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you get below the surface of your child’s struggles with Halloween.
Start with a reframe- Can you frame the situation in a way that helps you get curious about what’s going on underneath the tantrum, tears, fear or yelling? Remind yourself that your child is not giving you a hard time with Halloween, your child is having a hard time with Halloween. The reframe will allow you to feel like you and your child are working as a team towards a solution.
Connect with your child- The anticipation and excitement leading up to Halloween is often accompanied by a slew of mixed emotions. Excitement can quickly and easily switch to overwhelm!
Think about those last-minute tears over a costume, “Why are you crying about being Spider-Man??? You’ve wanted to dress as Spider-Man for weeks!!”
Rather than responding with a logical lecture, try connecting with your child to help them sort through their feelings. When children feel affirmed and understood, their emotional brain will start to feel soothed, allowing your child to start feeling calm. Connecting with your child builds a foundation that fosters trust, a positive self-image, and open communication.
Looking for some great ways to connect with your child? Get my free tips here.
Follow your child’s lead- Is your child pushing back on wearing a costume? Does your child want to Trick-or-Treat or would they rather stay home and hand out candy to others? Is it too scary for your child to walk up to a decorated house and speak to strangers? Does the idea of a school costume parade seem fun or would your child rather be a spectator? Is the smell and feel of pumpkin innards too overwhelming for your child to make a jackolantern?
Forcing your child to participate in activities that don’t feel comfortable may lead to further pushback and fear. Can you allow your child to have some autonomy over the day and choose a level of participation that feels right for them?
Let your child know how impressed you are with their ability to make good choices that feel right for them. You may even notice your child step outside their comfort zone when they feel safe and supported!
By the way, if you’re looking for some easy costume ideas that cater to a child with a heightened sensory system, check out these ideas here.
Make a Plan- Can you prepare your child for what the day will bring — perhaps even break down the day into smaller chunks and explain what specific events will look and feel like? Is there any space in the day’s events where you can allow your child some choices?
As you work out your day, put your ‘sensory glasses’ on to anticipate any triggers that may affect your child. Are there any measures you can take to help reduce your child’s exposure to these triggers?
As you’re planning your Halloween celebrations, consider building in enough quiet and downtime to keep stress low. For example, your Trick-or-Treat plan may look like this:
Pack a bag of supplies for trick or treating (flashlight, glow necklace, water bottle, etc) earlier in the day.
Quiet time before eating an early meal
Allow yourself ample time to get dressed up and ready to go.
Work out a route that feels safe, manageable and easy to get home if things don’t go as planned.
Create boundaries- As the parent or caregiver, you will want to establish a boundary around the events of the day. By envisioning your day and considering your child’s abilities, you may be able to establish boundaries that will help you avoid potential meltdowns. Keep in mind, you can be loving and affirming to your child’s feelings while still holding a boundary.
Some boundaries to consider -
If you have a child who tends to run ahead, consider bringing a wagon or a stroller as you move safely from house to house. Make it clear to your child when they will be seated for a ride and when it’s ok to walk.
Know when it’s time to go home. Do you know how much time your child can last before feeling overwhelmed? Will you plan your day around mealtime to avoid a hangry child? Would lit-up street lights be a good visual cue for your child to understand when it’s time to go home?
Would your child benefit from taking some breaks? Can you strategically plan for breaks along your route? Consider working in bathroom breaks and water breaks to get a few minutes of quiet to help calm the nervous system.
Keep as much routine as possible - Structure and routine help children feel grounded and safe. Some children feel lost when the day’s order becomes disrupted. Is there a way for you to maintain some routine while incorporating the special events of the holiday? For example, consider finishing up Trick-or-Treating early enough to get home and maintain a regular bedtime routine.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself! It is not easy to stay calm when your child is working through some big emotions. Self-care allows you to parent from a place of abundance rather than frustration. Can you slow down and find an appreciation for something that brings you joy? A few deep breaths, a cup of tea, a piece of dark chocolate - you get the idea! Big indulgences are fun, but these small appreciations can help you find some clarity during a tough moment with your kiddo.
If your child struggles with all things Halloween, keep in mind, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Trust me as a Mom who has been there myself!
Remember, your child is not giving you a hard time, she is having a hard time managing Halloween. Trust your gut and find what works best for you and your family — even if that means creating new traditions and activities! With a little planning and mindfulness, you’ll be able to work as a team to make Halloween a treat for all!
What's your plan to have a spooktacular Halloween? Leave a comment and let me know which tip may help you the most!