Halloween frights can go way beyond the thrill of ghosts and goblins. Fun can quickly become real fear for some children, even though they’ve been told repeatedly that the scary witches and bloody masks are pretend. For some kids, any costume creates confusion and anxiety about what’s real and what isn’t. Others become giddy from all the excitement and sugar and can’t calm themselves down. Because the holiday typically comes with plenty of hype, the buildup can be stressful and distracting for weeks in advance.
This Halloween, take some steps to minimize the fright and overwhelming experiences. At the same time, you can seize the social learning opportunities that come with a night of adventure.
Here are 10 tips and tricks to make the experience calmer, happier, and even - dare I say it? - educational:
1. Reduce anxiety by planning ahead and trying on costumes in advance, so your child can assert control about being in costume or not. Some kids will benefit from visiting a costume store to see that even the scariest costumes are just fabric in a box or on a rack.
2. Some children are sensitive to certain textures and fabrics. Involve them in making the costume or have them wear a store-bought one around the house to make sure it doesn’t create discomfort on the big day.
3. Help your child act out the character he has chosen for Halloween. What does this person or creature think and feel? For example, what might a witch say to a princess? How would a ghost talk to a lion? If your child is wearing a scary costume, remind him to think about how others might feel if they were looking at or talking with him.
4. Halloween is filled with teachable moments for understanding emotions. When looking at others in costume or at pictures of people in costume, encourage your child to make guesses about what those characters might feel and say, based on the child’s knowledge about those types of characters.
5. Use pumpkins to carve out various emotions. What is a Jack-o’-Lantern’s expression telling you about its emotions? How will it make others feel when they come to the door and see that Jack-o-Lantern’s face? Try to read other pumpkins’ expressions!
6. Review the hidden rules of Halloween with your child prior to the big night. For example, take just one candy when trick or treating, and thank the person who offered the treat. If the lights are out at someone’s home, don’t ring the bell.
7. Prime your child for what the plans are for the night and help them recall what past Halloweens have looked like. Do they remember anything that might have been a trigger in the past? What tools could be helpful if that happens again?
8. Before trick-or-treating, give your child a healthy dinner to balance some of the sugar to come. Make sure the meal includes plenty of water, and maybe a nap if possible.
9. Remind your child that if they want to comment on someone else’s costume, they should say something positive and not insult anyone’s costume. The same goes for any treats that they are given.
10. Keep a careful watch on your child during trick-or-treating to check for signs of overload. Regularly ask your child how they are doing and if they would like a break. If your parental radar tells you that your child is on the edge, wrap up the evening as quickly as possible.
Enjoy HALLOWEEN, and keep those frights under control!
For more useful tips and tricks for holidays and every day routines and activities, check out Make Social Learning Stick! This practical how-to-guide offers over 185 practical tools and activities that caregivers can easily fit into everyday routines and holidays as a way to help children gain and improve social and emotional competence across multiple natural settings. Providing easy-to-use concepts and suggestions, this book turns daily scheduled events such as meal prep, movie time and grocery shopping into teachable moments for success.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Sautter, MA, CCC-SLP, co-directs and co-owns Communication Works, a private practice offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy for children and adults. She has worked with preschool to adult clients and their families since 1996 in private practice, schools, and hospitals. Following her professional passion, Elizabeth has specialized in social communication, self-regulation, and executive functioning. She thrives on learning and developing functional and creative intervention tools and programs to support her clients, and enjoys collaborating with other professionals and parents. Her relationships with her sister and extended family members with special needs have made her work a lifelong endeavor. She has completed a mentorship and internship with Michelle Garcia Winner, Stephanie Madrigal, and Pamela Crooke, and has also co-authored two popular children’s books about whole body listening, Whole Body Listening Larry at Home and Whole Body Listening Larry at School.
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