For families who partake in the fun of Halloween, it's a great time of year full of excitement.
However, for many families with foster children, children who were adopted, or children with special needs, it can be a difficult and even traumatic month, climaxing with a night of real emotional horrors caused by any number of reasons. Sensory issues can be exacerbated by costumes that feel different than everyday clothes, spooky decorations that make noises or unexpectedly move, even other kids running about the neighbourhood screaming and laughing can all trigger negative reactions. Children who were recently adopted internationally may not even know what Halloween is or understand that it's make-believe fun instead of terrifyingly real. Language barriers or developmental delays may also prevent them from understanding explanations and assurances.
In order to make Halloween as enjoyable as possible for your child, here are some tips that I've learned over the past five years from my own experiences and those of other adoptive or foster parents:
If your children go into panic mode when they are cold, find a fuzzy, full-body costume that's one size larger than usual to wear extra layers of clothes inside. If your children are triggered by anything touching their face, step away from the masks!
Wearing their costumes often before Halloween events or trick-or-treating gives children time to get used to the feeling of the costume and become comfortable with the "alternate personality" their costume portrays. Some children fear dress-up because they worry their disguise may cause their parents to no longer recognize them and subsequently abandon them or stop caring for them—remember, these are often children with fight-or-flight coping skills who don't always rationalize their own fears. Assure your little ghost or goblin by name that you will still lovingly care for them dressed as Spiderman, Princess Merida, or a minion, and give them a hug while they're in costume to demonstrate.
Halloween isn't only about the costume, so don't ruin the fun by insisting on one. If somebody shelling-out asks your child where her costume is, simply explain—with a pointed stink-eye—that your child took it off.
Let your children see all the different costumes and decorations ahead of time and ask whatever questions they want, and assure them it's all make-believe. My daughter still gets nervous with the blood-and-guts type of decorations, so we look at them quickly or bypass that section entirely.
Talk about what route you will walk, how long you will stay out trick-or-treating and if there are any specific houses your child really wants to visit. Ensure your children know that they can decide to come home at any time. If they aren't doing trick-or-treating, discuss with them what that is and let them know many kids will be ringing your door, if you are shelling out. Assure them that nobody is coming to your home to take them or hurt them and give them the option of helping shell-out or avoiding it altogether. If your children are really worried or upset about numerous visitors coming to your door, don't bother shelling out—your children's comfort in their own home is your priority.
If your child is new to the country or can't yet communicate fluently, limit the number of Halloween events you attend, if any. On my daughter's first Halloween, we dressed her in a snuggly-warm elephant costume because she had two elephant stuffies that were already familiar to her. Despite her ability to walk, we carried her to only three neighbours' homes, the ones that she already met and who were familiar with our circumstances.
I can't stress this enough. While YOU may love Halloween, or simply want your child to maximize their positive childhood experiences and memories, your child may be feeling all sorts of negative things at any point during the Halloween season. If your child doesn't want to carve pumpkins—don't. If your child wants to leave a Halloween party ten minutes after arriving—do it.
Your child may not have the language skills or emotional self-awareness to tell you exactly what is wrong, so watch for altered behavior as Halloween approaches.
Remember there are no rules when it comes to your family's traditions, so do what works best for your child. Halloween comes every October 31st, so if something doesn't fit with your child's comfort level this year, you can always try to re-introduce it next year or whenever your child is ready. The most important part of Halloween is to have FUN, but it's not fun for any child to be pressured or cajoled into doing something or wearing outfits that they just aren't comfortable with. Try to use Halloween as a bonding time for your children to share their feelings with you, and you to demonstrate your love, support, and understanding of them by respecting those feelings.
Have a Happy Halloween!
Hi! Thanks for checking out my blog. You may also want to check out this post with more tips on managing Halloween with special needs children, or you may like this post with ten tips on what to say to families who have adopted.