Halloween is a favorite time of year for many! The fall weather is here, the leaves on the trees are changing colors and there’s an abundance of pumpkins and pumpkin spice flavored foods everywhere you turn!
But for some, these sights, sounds and smells bring anxiety. For some, the thought of wearing a costume or seeing all the masks is anxiety-provoking. For some, feeling the inside of a pumpkin makes them gag.
So what do you do when you have a child that experiences anxiety around Halloween? You either choose to pull them from all Halloween celebrations or you help to desensitize them to each part of the holiday one step at a time.
How to desensitize your child to Halloween
The week before Halloween:
1. Create a story about what they are dressing up, when it will be time to wear the costume, and how they will leave the house to go knock on neighbors doors to say “trick or treat” before being handed a treat (e.g., a piece of candy or a small toy). If they can’t verbalize “trick-or-treat” try this.
2. Practice wearing the costume they picked out. You might try to have then wear it over their favorite t-shirt and pants so they are comfortable. Add one piece of the costume per day working up to the whole costume by the time Halloween roles around.
3. Practice trick-or-treating with a neighbor or two. Have your child practice putting in at least a part of their costume and ringing a neighbor (or two neighbors) doorbell to practice so they’re familiar with what’s expected when it really comes time to trick-or-treat.
The night of Halloween:
1. Read the story again.
2. Get dressed in costume following the story.
3. Set a timer to let them know when it will be time to trick-or-treat if timers help ease the transition for your child.
5. Pay attention to your child and how they do after each house they go to. You’ll know when it’s time to call it quits and head home.
After Halloween be sure to review what you accomplished and reward your child with lots of praise for anything they were able to accomplish. If the didn’t go up to anyone’s door alone but participated in walking around the neighborhood that’s still something to celebrate!
Note: if you have a child who is nonverbal, you might have then wear a sign that says,
“Trick-or-treat. My name is _____ and I have ________ (e.g., autism). I may not be able to say it out loud yet but I’m working on it. Thank you!”