I LOVE HALLOWEEN! I am “that” person. I have had some sort of costume box fully loaded since I was eight years old. I dressed up to pass out candy before I had children. I had my children’s Halloween costumes planned before my 3rd trimester. There. I said it. One more confession: I had A LOT to learn about how I needed to adjust my own expectations when it came to planning a fun and enjoyable experience for my kids.
As much as I LOVE HALLOWEEN, it can be an overwhelming experience for a lot of kids. Sprinkle some sensory processing challenges on top and you have the perfect recipe for a sad little goblin. Some kiddos would rather skip the nonsense all together (those kids grow up to be people like my husband). My suggestion for kiddos who may be bothered by constant doorbell ringing and unplanned visitors is to either turn off all of your lights or go to a neighbor’s house who isn’t participating. For my pals who want to participate, but need a little “pre-game prep”…
I have come up with a few things to consider to make your Halloween a spooktacular success:
- Do Your Homework: Fun books and DVDs about Halloween are a great way to introduce jack-o-lanterns, silly costumes and trick or treating. Most popular characters have Halloween-themed stories and can be a great place to start.
- Decorate Together: Putting a few festive things around the house is a fun way to get the party started. In our house, fine motor projects are not our favorite (they are super hard and often make us frustrated). Instead, we have used foam stickers and paint to decorate our pumpkins. I am a big fan of the Mr. Potato Head-esque pumpkin accessories to make silly faces.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: Social stories are a great way to prepare kids for unfamiliar experiences. Writing a basic story with pictures (either photos of your kids or pics from the internet) that explain the experience, can help children to understand expectations. Another fun idea is to practice trick or treating. For example, in our house we play “trick or treat hide & seek.” Practicing how to trick or treat with a neighbor or a friend is also really helpful. Do not forget to throw in a few “what if” scenarios. What should we say if someone says, “you look scary/beautiful/so silly”? What happens if no one is home? What happens if you receive a treat you do not like? What should we do if there is a dog? Think about things your kiddo may be sensitive about and teach them how best to manage the situation.
- Costumes: My best advice is to really consider your child’s likes/dislikes in regard to their costume. If they have tactile sensitivities, a basic and comfortable costume is best. Letting your child participate in planning his/her costume is key. They will be much more engaged if they helped create their fabulous frocks. In our house, most Halloween success has been found in our playroom dress up box (train conductor hat, jeans and done!).
- What’s the Plan, Stan: I am all about a clear game plan before we embark on new and exciting experiences (caution: meltdowns can be major and occur often). Think about the following: Candy Management – Do you eat on the road? It is not a race, staying together is part of the fun. Quality vs. Quantity – focus on having a fun time going to a few houses rather than playing “who can get the most candy.”
- Avoid Route Pout: In the heat of the moment, little super-heroes can get caught up in the packs of roving neighbors running house to house. A pre-planned route has helped us avoid “route pout” for the last few years. Talk to your kids about where you are going before you go. Try and give them a warning before it is time to head back (two more houses and then we are heading home). Try to quit while you are ahead and avoid the “hitting the wall” meltdown that often occurs when kiddos have met their stimulus saturation point. I am a big fan of “less is more” when it comes to how many homes you visit.
- Calm, Cool and Collected: Keeping little bodies trick or treat ready takes some “game day planning.” We don’t want them over-stimulated before it is time to go. Halloween projects that include heavy work (proprioceptive activities) will help keep them calm. Making Halloween designs out of play dough, holding weighted toys/vests/blankets, drinking an orange smoothie through a straw, eating a trick or treat trail mix (with crunchy and chewy snacks) are a few ideas that may help. Plan a healthy haunted dinner prior to going out. A meal with lots of protein and carbs will give them much needed ghoul-fuel.
- Buddy System: Halloween is a great time for a play date. Having a friend share trick or treating will help on lots of levels. Not only is it more fun to be silly with a buddy, but a friend can really help navigate the night. There are so many factors our little ones have to manage (social cues, body awareness, sensory stimulations, etc.). Having a trusted friend there to model behavior is a great way to plan for success.
- Be F.L.E.X.I.B.L.E.: So you spent three weeks making a Thomas the Train costume out of recycled cereal boxes and at the last minute your little engineer doesn’t want to wear it. OK. So what? It is his night and he should be comfortable. Throw on a silly hat and hit the road. (Remember: it is hard for us to see things from his perspective. Fear/pain/anxiety are in the eyes of the beholder.)
- Now What?: Congratulations! You have planned and executed a fantastic trick or treat expedition. Now what do you do with all of that candy? In our house, we have LOTS of food allergies and sensitivities. We have a strict rule that there can be no eating treats on the road (I keep a few lollipops and treats handy for a roadside fix). I make sure that the candy we give out at our house is OK for my kids (conveniently it is candy I don’t care for). When we get home, the kids can have an approved treat.
After the big day, all of our collected candy (after it’s been inspected by Dad) goes to our dentist, who sends the candy to our troops. My kids get to have the treats that are good for them and share with honored heroes. The fire department has also received goody bags from my kids.
With a little preparation and a LOT of patience, Halloween can be a fun time for all.
TRICK OR TREAT!
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