Ask Amelia: Trick-or-Treating with a Sensitive Child

Kids trick or treat on Halloween

Halloween can be lots of fun, but sometimes it’s hard for sensitive kids to process a lot of the scary imagery. In this Trick-or-Treating Edition of “Ask Amelia,”  Amelia Peck, LMFT has some great strategies for navigating this time of year, plus what to do with the extra Halloween treats!

How to Help Your Sensitive Child at Halloween

Dear Amelia, 

Do you have strategies to help sensitive kids deal with the scary imagery that’s in yards around our neighborhood? Not to mention trick or treating! I still remember being terrified of a neighbor in a witch costume when I was little. – Sensitive and Scared

Happy Fall Sensitive and Scared!

Halloween is sensory overload for people of all ages and can be particularly overwhelming for small children. We all want to give our kids a fun and safe Halloween. There is so much anticipation for this evening that when kids are confronted with the actual experience, their excitement takes a one-eighty turn. Here are some ways to prepare your child and yourself for this exciting day.

1. Explore Your Area Before Trick-Or-Treating

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, look around your neighborhood and see what type of decorations are out. Taking a walk pre-Halloween when it is still well lit outside gives your child an opportunity to see things in daylight and choose houses for trick-or-treating (or avoid). 

Teachable moments: The exploring gives your child the opportunity to see that these decorations are not real. Large inflatable pumpkins, even smiling ones, can be overwhelming in the dark. But your child seeing the same pumpkin deflated and controlled by a power chord may give it less life-like nature later on.

Validate your child’s feelings. If they feel scared, or change their mind about how they feel, that is ok. Anytime we validate our children’s feelings and don’t push them into scary situations, we teach them that their feelings matter and it is ok to express them. In turn, this makes them feel more secure and confident later in life.

2. Try On Costumes Before Halloween

It is no secret that store-bought Halloween costumes are often thin, ill-fitting, laced with itchy tags, bulky masks, and kids love them. Have your child play around a bit and see if the costume could benefit from any little adjustments to make the main event more enjoyable for everyone. Making eye slots in a mask a little larger or a superhero cape a little shorter can go a long way to extend the fun and comfort while your kids are out.

3. Plan Your Trick-or-Treat Route

Once you have scoped out the neighborhood and chosen your path, walk it out a few times with your child and narrate as you go, almost like a sports announcer. “At this corner, we’re going to go left onto the street where the first house is the one with four pumpkins by the door.” This gives your child increased confidence in their route and familiarity with their surroundings. 

Safety tip: If your neighborhood tends to be a busy one during Halloween, plan a meetup spot (or two) in case you are separated. Halloween gets dark and it isn’t uncommon for kids to be wearing similar costumes, especially ones with masks. While this is never anyone’s intention, stuff happens. It’s always better to prepare. Also, consider a brightly colored candy bag, glow stick bracelets, or something else that makes your Batman or Elsa stand out from the rest.

4. Alternatives to Neighborhood Trick-or-Treating

Not everyone lives in a neighborhood that is safe for trick-or-treating and may not even have the option. In addition, you may not be ready for your child to go door-to-door, even with your constant supervision. If that is the case, many churches and schools host Trunk-or-Treat events, and some shopping malls host similar experiences as well. These are great options that aimed at accommodating young kids and often hosted by people you may know in your community.

5. Make Different Plans for Halloween Night

Not everyone has to participate in trick-or-treating. Some kids aren’t ready. Have a Halloween party at home instead. Make some fun treats and watch a Halloween movie like Charlie Brown and The Great Pumpkin. Your whole family can still dress up and just enjoy staying in. Maybe even let your child hand out candy to those who come to your home. That way they can see other kids having the experience and may become more interested in participating next year.  

What Do You Do with the Extra Candy After Trick-Or-Treating?

Dear Amelia, Is it better to secretly get rid of three-quarters of my kids’ Halloween candy, or to honestly tell them that we don’t need that much so Dad’s going to take it to share at his office? Or something else? – Candy Thief

Dear Candy Thief, 

How you perform the Disappearing Candy Act greatly depends on your child’s age and awareness. However, unlike the leftover broccoli you want them to eat for dinner, they will not forget the candy exists. Whatever you choose, let them know the plan ahead of time. 

How many pieces can they have after they are done trick-or-treating? Even if they put up a fight, knowing the limit ahead of time is better than suddenly cutting them off. 

How do you distribute candy after Halloween is over? Set limits for when and how much candy everyone can eat. And find ways for kids to earn a piece of candy! The second one can greatly work in your favor! Don’t worry Dad, you don’t have to miss out on the candy stash for work. Your kids can pick pieces to share and give to work friends.

At most trick-or-treating ages, it is totally fine to rummage through candy after they’ve gone to bed. This gives you a chance to toss anything you do not want them to consume. Also, check for any allergy concerns, and even grab a few pieces for yourself! Enjoy, Halloween is a lot of work for parents!

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