Our American Halloween has traditionally been affiliated with scary things but it also can be a time for creativity, imagination and playful activities for children. With some planning, parents and teachers can provide children an opportunity to enjoy the month of October in anticipation of the holiday while keeping Halloween fun and stress free.
- Encourage imagination. Dressing up in a costume for Halloween is one of the most exciting experiences of childhood. We all remember from childhood hearing and asking, “What are you going to be for Halloween?” Encourage your child to imagine who or what they would like to be for Halloween and join in the imaginative process. It’s healthy and natural for children to engage in imaginative play and what better time than Halloween? Children can transform into super heroes or their favorite cartoon show characters. Start early in the month and plan ahead. Consider creating a costume together which will allow for a fun parent-child bonding experience.
- Keep costumes comfortable. When a costume is scratchy or hot your child is likely to feel stressed and miss out on the fun of Halloween. As you and your child plan and prepare for her costume, be conscious of comfort.
- Avoid exposure to horror. There are still those who use Halloween to promote horror and super scary movies, characters, stories and imagery. A child’s mind should be protected from being exposed to images and ideas that can engender severe anxiety resulting potentially in nightmares, somatic symptoms and avoidance of normal activities. Monitor what your child is seeing on television or on the internet very closely and be ready to have age-appropriate conversations about what is real and what is just pretend for times they see scary Halloween decorations in stores or in yards. This will go a long way to keeping Halloween fun and stress free.
- Bring on the pumpkins. Visit a pumpkin patch with your child and pick out a pumpkin or two. Engage in pumpkin painting or carving (with safe adult supervision) together as a means of creative fun bonding time. Avoid the stress of crowds by going early rather than waiting to the last minute. You might allow your child to have his own smaller pumpkin he can draw or paint on however he wishes and then create a family jack-o-lantern together. Roast the pumpkin seeds and enjoy a crunchy, healthy snack together.
- Keep trick-or-treating within safe and healthy limits. This might seem obvious to many parents but others may need to hear how important it is to carefully plan and monitor your child’s experience going door to door. Be sure you personally know the home-owners your child is visiting and accompany your child to the door. Decide in advance on one or two streets and limit the number of houses your child will visit. If after dark, be sure you and your child are on a well lit street. Keep in mind young children do best when their normal nightly routine is intact so keep the trick-or-treating to earlier in the evening and limit the eating of the treats. When sugar, sensory stimulation and need for sleep combine it’s a recipe for stress.
- Consider alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating. There are fall festivals often hosted by schools, churches or other community organizations that take place during days throughout the month of October where children can dress up in costumes and participate in fun activities without the darker side of Halloween. Another option is to host a party on the afternoon and early evening of Halloween to which your child can invite neighborhood and school friends. These options provide an opportunity to contain your child’s Halloween experience in lieu of late-night traipsing from door-to-door gathering pounds of sugary treats while still allowing children a chance to enjoy the fun of the holiday.
As Autumn arrives it’s a fun time of year for children to enjoy the magic of dressing up and gathering with friends for activities and special treats. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for parents and children to create happy memories and enjoy connective experiences while keeping Halloween fun and stress free.