Halloween is a time of candy and costumed parties and trick-or-treating, but for even the most easy going of children it can be a trying experience for parents. For children with special needs and their families, the holidays can be a stressful time but there are ways to make Halloween night an enjoyable experience for everyone.
The first step to ensuring a successful holiday is talking to the child to make sure they understand what the night will entail. Discussions should include the schedule for the night, the expectations for the child’s behavior, and a reminder of the rules; such as not walking into a stranger’s house or not eating candy as soon as they receive it. Social stories are a great way to give children a look at what is happening and the etiquette they are supposed to follow. Premade social stories can be found here and here, or parents and caregivers can make their own that allows them to address specific concerns for their child.
Costumes can sometimes be scary for children, especially when they see the scarier masks that are more common to older children and teens. Before going out, parents can remind their child about the costumes they saw in the store. Finding online tutorials for how to make monster make-up and letting children watch step by step how a werewolf or zombie is made may help them understand the process better. Parents should also remember that other trick-or-treaters are just people too. If a child is scared by a particular costume, ask the costumed person if they can show their face so that the ‘scary monster’ becomes a friendly kid from the neighborhood.
When it comes time to trick-or-treat, parents should reiterate their earlier conversations about taking only one piece of candy, being grateful even if they don’t like the offering, and that they cannot eat the candy as soon as they get it. Reminders throughout the evening will help reinforce the expectations and goals of the night.
For parents and caregivers, it’s important to remember that trick-or-treat is supposed to be a fun night for children. If a child gets overstimulated or can’t cope with the crowds, there is nothing wrong with going home early. Handing out candy at the door in costume can be a rewarding experience as well. Parents can use the activity to teach sharing and give their child a chance to engage with peers on their own familiar ground.
Parents should also remember that traditional trick-or-treating isn’t the only choice. Some therapy centers, shopping malls and business complexes have trick-or-treating alternatives. Schools have their own holiday related activities during the school day as well. In the Torrance area, check out these alternatives to door to door trick-or-treating; Wilson Park, Riviera Village, and Main Street in Huntington Beach.
Using non-traditional venues and preparing a child for the Halloween experience can make the difference between a great night and a frustrating one. Taking the time to explain the event, to make sure children know their surroundings, and to keep a child’s individual needs in mind can lead to a happy Halloween and many great memories.