The wind is getting crisp and leaves are beginning to change color. October is upon us, and this month ushers in the start of our holiday season. Up first, of course, is the perennial favorite of children far and wide, Halloween. While not an official U.S. holiday, this celebration is observed in communities throughout our country. With candy, costumes and parties galore, it is a child’s dream come true. You have probably already noticed the stores marketing Halloween goodies to kids as decorations of ghosts, witches and jack-o’-lanterns seem to have popped up over night.
While this can be a magical time of year for many youngsters, for kids with sensory sensitivities and other special needs, Halloween may cause some anxieties. To ensure that your family has a positive experience, here are some tips that will allow everyone to take part in the festivities of the season.
Spend time explaining customs and traditions so your child knows what to expect.
Halloween tends to move children away from their typical routines as they attend costume parties, are showered with sweets, and begin to anticipate trick-or-treating. Youngsters will be exposed to different costumes and characters -- most benign, but some scary. Let them know that they will see people dressed in many different types of costumes, but this is all pretend. Prepare your little one for new noises (incessant doorbell ringing, for example) or large crowds. If they will be participating in the ritual of trick-or-treat, have them practice with you at home before going into the neighborhood. The more children can anticipate, the more comfortable they will feel. Most of all, let your child know that you will be with them during Halloween, and if they are concerned or upset about anything, they should tell you right away.
Allow your child to help plan the festivities.
Let your little one choose a costume that interests him or her, such as a favorite book character or superhero. You might also allow your child to pick out the treats you will serve to neighborhood kids, or have your youngster help decorate the house with window stickers and jack-o-lanterns. This enables your child to be included in the festivities, and also provides him the opportunity to ask questions and share ideas.
Let your youngster get comfortable in her costume before you go out trick or treating.
Sometimes fabrics, face paint or costumes that restrict parts of the body can be troubling for a person who has special needs. Give your child time to “test drive” the costume and become familiar with the way it feels and moves. If there is something that bothers your child, you can make adjustments ahead of time.
Try to limit candy and other sweets.
I know, easier said than done, right? On the other hand, no child needs to consume an entire bag of Halloween candy. Communicate to your child ahead of time that he will only be allowed to eat some of his bounty. Set aside a small portion of sweets for your child, and the rest can be frozen, put away for other times of the year or shared with a children’s agency or nonprofit. Putting limits on sweets is good for your child’s health and mood. You can also serve as a role model for other parents and children in your neighborhood by handing out apples, raisins, crayons or sugar-fee gum during trick-or-treating.
Remember to have fun and capture special moments.
Hold your child’s hand, be silly and playful, and take lots of photos. Enjoy the time that you share with your child and create memories that can last a lifetime. And make notes of the things that your child enjoyed so you can build upon them in the years to come.
Don’t force your child to participate in any activity that makes her uncomfortable or unhappy, but do encourage her to try new things.
Also, if you are anxious about trick-or-treating in your neighborhood, you might take advantage of one of the family activities taking place in Milwaukee. For example, try the Milwaukee County Zoo Halloween Spooktacular instead of traditional trick-or-treating.
Mara Duckens is the executive director of St. Francis Children's Center.