Most children are eagerly anticipating Halloween, dreaming about the costumes they’ll wear and the candy they’ll devour.
For children with anxiety and sensory-processing issues, however, Halloween is an unsettling time. For their parents, this spooky time of year is a challenge in helping their youngsters manage their stress. Between misty foghorns, spider webs and spooky music, children who have heightened sensory awareness experience Halloween much differently than the typical child.
“It’s important to be kind and patient with every child,” said Leaha Jones, supervisor with Memorial Behavioral Health. “Your ability to be supportive and encouraging is going to make this experience tolerable and even fun.”
For kids with heightened sensory awareness, walking door to door, talking to strangers and waiting in line on doorsteps can cause increased stress, Jones said. To help these kids, parents can role-play trick-or-treating ahead of time to help their child feel more comfortable when it’s time for the real thing, she said.
Don’t be impatient if your child becomes nervous, shy or scared, Jones said. “You know your child best. If you notice they are overstimulated, offer a break or a distraction. Go home for a short break and return once they’re ready.”
Children with sensory issues may also struggle with wearing various types of fabrics or textures like an itchy tag or tight collar, Jones said. To help, try these tips.
Allow you child to go to the store and touch different costumes. Wash the costume a few times to soften the fabric, which may help with textures. Wear comfortable clothing underneath the costume. Be aware that for some children masks will be a struggle and can make them feel more anxious because it limits their vision.
And offer them a couple different costume options. “The cutest costume won’t matter if your child refuses to wear it for Halloween festivities,” Jones said.
When you’re passing out treats to the neighborhood children, remember that each child has different skill sets and comfort levels.
For example, some children may not have developed fine motor skills and don’t have the finger strength to grasp one piece of candy. Instead, they’ll use their whole hand to scoop candy out of the bowl. “They aren’t acting out,” Jones said.
Other children may not wear a costume at all due to their sensory issues. “That’s OK,” Jones said. “Don’t respond in a negative way or ask, ’Where is your costume?’ or ’What are you dressed up as?’”
Some children may use sign language to say “trick or treat” or “thank you.” Others may not say anything at all and just hold out their buckets.