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Halloween: Trick or Treat?

Making Halloween happier for everyone!

Take weeks of kids talking about costumes, numerous parties in school and in the community, constant Halloween movies on TV, stores filled with noisy orange and black decorations, and a candy explosion everywhere you go. Now add in a child who’s prone to meltdowns, is challenged with dealing with surprises and disappointments, has a hard time following directions, getting along with peers, or resisting impulses (like eating candy nonstop), and has sensory issues. Before Halloween even comes you could be heading for disaster.

Trick or Treat?For many people, Halloween is nothing but a treat, but for others, it’s a bit tricky. If your child has complex learning and attention issues they may love the holiday (Free candy, duh!) but also have difficulty negotiating many of its traditions. Here are a few of the tricky parts of Halloween and suggestions for making it a happier holiday for everyone.

The Build Up

With all the pre-holiday build up you need to take a step back, breathe and plan. Which parties will you attend and which ones will you skip? How much trick-or-treating can your child manage? Are there houses that decorate every year in a way that’s too scary for your child? Is there an ideal route to take? Is there a friend or family that’s a good fit to trick-or-treat with? What Halloween movies or shows are on your approval list and which ones are off limits?

The more you make these kinds of decisions ahead of time, the better. Then take time to preview with your child. Write the plan down in a fun way, create your own yearly rituals around Halloween that are best suited for your child, and keep reviewing the plan, building in a discussion about possible changes that would lead to a Plan B.

The Costume

Is it itchy, too tight, blocking vision, the wrong character or color? So much can go wrong with a simple Halloween costume if you are a Complex Learner. Ideally, purchase or make a costume that works with sweatpants or is a soft material. Check the weather to make sure the costume’s not either too hot or not layered enough for the cold. And for children with real aversions to costume, look online for a character t-shirt from Frozen or Star Wars or whatever your child loves. Don’t feel the pressure of having your child dress in a costume that looks like it came from a Broadway musical. Simple is better, with flourishes your child is comfortable with.

Trick or Treating

Your child needs to practice to understand social rules and cues, so why not practice trick-or-treating? Get in your costumes to see if there are any problems before the special night (like a tag you forgot to cut off or a headband that keeps falling off). Practice what to say and do by pretending a doorway to someone’s room is a house in the neighborhood. Recruit your spouse or a sibling to be on the other side with a healthy snack and go through the motions. Talk about how much candy to take, and remind your child to say thank you.

That night, eat a meal before leaving for the street. Your child may be so excited that this could be difficult! Maybe a favorite pizza or veggies and dip. And if the doorbell rings while you’re eating, let your child decide if they want to answer the door. They may want to do it themselves or not at all. You can supervise and demonstrate how to interact with the trick-or-treaters who arrive on your doorstep or you can let your child stay away from the door.

The goal is to have a fun night and not worry about who gets the most candy or has the best costume. You may decide to host a party or attend a community event instead of trick-or-treating if it’s a better fit for your child. The only rules are the ones that work for you.

Back at the Ranch

Once you are home for the night you will want to be sure there are some guidelines around what happens to the candy. Most parents want to look through the stash to make sure there isn’t anything unwrapped or allergy-laden. Then, how much your child eats and what to do with the remaining candy should be agreed upon. Here’s a blog post from Today’s Parent with ten great ideas for dealing with all the sweets!

Finally, stick to your evening routine as much as possible, especially when Halloween falls on a weeknight. Maybe you create a special Halloween Night Routine for your child that’s a little different but still gets teeth brushed and bedtime taking place at a decent hour. Then sweep the monsters out from under the bed, put your feet up and have your favorite candy bar! You’ve made it through another Halloween!

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