Halloween is a very sensory-rich holiday for children in general, and sensory-sensitive children are going to be more sensitive than others during the many festivities of this holiday. With thoughtful planning and preparing your child in advance, they should be able to enjoy the parts of this holiday that they are interested in. Here are some suggestions to help get you organized for Halloween fun.
- Talk about what happens when you carve pumpkins, visit a pumpkin patch, dress up in costumes, have holiday parties and trick-or-treat in advance so they are not surprised or disappointed in the moment.
- Make a social story book that your child can relate to, if running through the process of trick-or-treating is beneficial. Find children’s books on trick-or-treating and read them with your child. Pre-read each book, to know if it will be at your child’s level and appropriate for what you are trying to teach.
- Look for costume ideas that are soft, comfortable, do not have a lot of attachments, do not feel bulky when wearing, or make your child feel too hot or cold. These factors can easily set off a tantrum or a meltdown, and some children will completely opt out of trick-or-treating last minute when everyone’s ready to walk to the neighbor’s house. This causes bigger family stress and disappointment than needed.
- Have a backup plan for a costume if the one they want causes a problem. I love the idea of themed pajamas for children to wear, for example, your child can wear skeleton pajamas or superhero onesie zip-up pajamas as their costume. They may prefer a mask drawn on their face instead of a real mask on their face annoying them throughout the night, or vice versa.
- Plan to separate from other siblings or friends in a group if your child is overstimulated, or over tired, to prevent a meltdown. This will require a minimum of 2 adults in the group to start, so you can divide and conquer when needed. Don’t wait until the meltdown happens to call it an evening either. These plans should be worked out between parents in advance too, so there are no surprises or arguing along the way.
- Bring a light-weight backpack to dump candy into so your child’s basket doesn’t get heavy or spilled between homes, to prevent frustration. You can transfer most of the candy to your backpack after every few houses if needed to minimize your child having a problem and getting upset.
- Make sure to feed your child healthy food before heading out for trick-or-treating. This will help maximize their mood and tolerance for all the sensory experiences coming their way.
- Do not push your child to approach a house or scary area for fun. If they don’t think it’s going to be fun, make them feel secure. You can hold them or just hold hands and encourage them to watch from a distance so they can learn what happens when the other children approach scary houses.
- Plan how many houses you are going to go to in advance and talk to your child to prep them for the expectations. If you start out early, at dusk, it will be less overwhelming and scary, and your child may want to just go to a few homes and be done. Make sure you are okay with that in advance, as you may want to do a lot more personally, but they are just not ready yet.
- Do physically regulating activities prescribed from your OT before getting ready and before leaving the house for trick-or-treating, so they are best prepared for the excitement and having to wait, or stay with a group vs running freely from door to door.
- Limit the sugar they eat throughout the day, to prevent sugar overload behaviors throughout the day and evening.
- Try to keep to a similar bed time routine that night, so your child can feel like the holiday has come to an end, and the excitement doesn’t carry over into not sleeping well.
- Determine how much candy is appropriate to keep in your home after trick-or-treating and come up with a plan in advance to tell your child, so they know what will happen with all the candy. Some of my favorite suggestions are to buy the candy off your child, and then let them use their money to buy what they really want (i.e.- a toy) or donate the candy locally to be sent to our troops. You can look up online where to donate candy. There’s usually a dentist in town also willing to take your candy off your hands too!
Sensory therapy, sensory diet activities, and setting the expectations in advance for all, are the best ways to help your child in general, to have the most fun trick-or-treating experience that they can handle this year. Most sensory-sensitive children learn the process and mature over time, so it will get better each year. Don’t feel discouraged, just plan for simple strategies in the meantime so this holiday can be enjoyable for you too! Sometimes less is more. Happy Halloween!
Author/Information provided by: Kelli Arnone MOT, OTR/L, SIPT
Kelli Arnone is the Co-owner and Director of Pediatric Potentials, Inc. a private sensory processing therapy clinic in Lake Mary, Florida. She is a graduate of San Jose State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreational Therapy. Kelli earned her Master of Science degree in occupational therapy from Nova Southeastern University. Kelli has over 25 years of experience working with children with sensory integration challenges as well as other developmental delays. She has worked in numerous hospitals, schools, community programs and private practices. She is trained and certified to administer the Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT) and is also trained and certified in Therapeutic Listening, Handwriting Without Tears, The Wilbarger Deep Pressure Protocol and is an Advanced Trained Neurofeedback Practitioner. Kelli also has presented on various topics at conferences, public and private schools and physician practices.