Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Halloween is supposed to be fun. That last crisp, cool October evening is perfect for admiring all the costumes as they zoom past you on the sidewalk. That is, as you frantically scan the crowd, looking for your own trick-or-treater (who absolutely will not wait for you no matter how many hundred times you ask her to.)
And exactly how much candy can we stuff into that trick-or-treat bag by the end of just one short night? It’s fun to watch the kids marvel at the fruits of their labor. (Fun, that is, before he throws a tantrum about how much of it he’s allowed to eat before bed, after school, with dinner, after dinner, and before bed tomorrow night, MOM!) Then again, some costumes are just so scratchy! And the Smiths down the street made their house way too scary last year. The noise, the chaos, the social overload, the textures…it’s all way too much! Maybe your child won’t even venture out into Halloween celebrations at this point.
For kids who struggle with impulsivity, focus, sensory integration, over-stimulation, and hyperactivity, Halloween can be an absolute nightmare. New and unfamiliar hazards require new and unexpected rules and expectations. It takes a strong degree of flexibility, high tolerance of frustration, and adept management of transitions to really nail it. Your child may likely be deficient in the skills required for a picture-perfect Halloween.
Try implementing these strategies to turn fright night into fun.
Problem #1: Candy
It’s bottomless, you end up eating it (he notices, tantrum ensues,) wrappers are everywhere, and you’re worried his behavior will go haywire every time you see him chewing.
Try this: First, to be clear, I’m not encouraging you to feed your child sugar.
* Assuming you are already planning on participating in the candy portion of the show, I am encouraging you to not panic. If your child has a diagnosed food allergy or sensitivity, you know where to draw the line and what your child should have access to. But if your child will have access to the seemingly bottomless supply of processed sugar that accompanies Halloween festivities, then for your sanity, consider the following:
While many people believe that sugar can cause hyperactivity in children, research does not support this belief. Studies also show that a parent’s beliefs about sugar can influence the way they view their children’s behavior. The common belief among parents that sugar is a leading cause of hyperactivity may be attributed to other situational factors, such as sugary foods served at holiday celebrations, when kids are often playing and having fun, or becoming overstimulated, among other things. Tip: It’s really about how to help your child self-regulate and self-monitor, rather than doing it for him. Creating a cost/benefit scenario can be helpful for those who are still working to develop the very basic self-monitoring and self-regulation skills.
*Make a plan with your child in the days leading up to trick-or-treat. Acknowledge how exciting it is to come home from trick-or-treating with a bag full of candy, but find ways to show him visually there will be more than he’s going to want to eat. Give him some fun trade-in options, such as:
– Show photos of typical brands/types of candy and decide on a penny value for each, with a special purchase in mind your child has had his eye on for a while now. If you go this route, practice ‘cashing in’ the candy beforehand so that your child will be able to see the total ‘adding up’ to the cost of the item. And let your child know you can carry out various scenarios where he can keep an amount he separates out for himself while designating amounts elsewhere.
– My daughter’s favorite: Do a good deed. Look together with your child for organizations that will benefit from a donation of your child’s stash. Operation Gratitude (https://www.operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/halloween-candy/) and Treats for Troops (https://soldiersangels.org/TreatsForTroops.html) are big ones. Local dentists may have a buyback program, or perhaps your child will have his own cool idea of how to split up his stash and share with others (shelters, food pantries, etc.) It’s fun to watch kids get excited about giving.
Bottom line here, kids love candy. Candy requires self-regulation skills that a lot of kids have not mastered.
Problem #2 – The Costume Conundrum
Why can’t she just wear the costume you already bought? She’s changing her mind again!? You’ve never even heard of that costume. And like most other things, it’ll probably be too uncomfortable to last through the day anyway. What gives?!
Try this: Consider manufactured, store-bought costumes only when necessary. Allow your child to create her own vision of what she wants to dress as. You may not understand or be familiar with what she’s describing, but as long as it’s appropriate and is consistent with school rules, allowing her to visualize and plan her creation, and then helping her carry out the project is a great way to support her executive functioning. Help where you can with a general plan to have her try to draw or sketch what she’s picturing in as much detail as she’s able, and then make a list of the steps to take to create her vision. From the plan, gather your list of materials and prepare to begin! You could also look for pictures or items to piece together in magazines or photos of materials on the internet. Encouraging your child to create her vision may result in an unidentifiable costume—but notice how proud of the finished product she will be, especially if you supported the efforts.
Problem #3 – Safety
Halloween can be one of the most dangerous days of the year for kids who have trouble focusing, managing impulses, and regulating emotions and behavior.
Try this: If your child is a runner, carefully choose the street where you trick-or-treat. This may mean going to a different neighborhood, but if you gather some parents and make an event out of it, you may find yourself starting a fun new tradition. Crowded neighborhoods packed with houses and driveways tend to lend themselves to chaos and stress—big kids plowing over little ones, more temptation, and a high influx of car traffic on Halloween. Streets with fewer homes may be less eventful, but allow for a stress-free evening with minimal need for correcting. (And probably more candy, as residents try desperately to get rid of all that candy to notably fewer visitors.)
If your child is a bit older and a route is non-negotiable, sit down together with your child and draw a map of the neighborhood/streets together. Have your child use a pencil to tap out a potential route. Follow along as he points to turns, points out hazards and safety concerns (with your guidance as necessary) and mentions any potential changes in plans that may come up along the route. Pre-imagining his plan with an actual map or drawing of the route and potential rough spots, help to better prepare him to navigate the real thing.
Halloween can be a lot of fun. If your child just isn’t ready to manage common traditions quite yet, find comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. It’s always an option to create your own traditions, at home or perhaps at a friends house with expectations that your child is able to easily meet (i.e., rather than trick or treating on the residential street, host a contained halloween party with friends and family until your child is old enough to safely manage.) However you arrange it, hopefully you can find some time to enjoy some treats for yourself this Halloween.