Halloween is one of those marginal holidays, celebrated by some and strongly opposed by others. Whatever your stance on it, there is no doubt that it is highly commercialized and likely to touch our children in several ways. Even if you don’t celebrate Halloween, but rather attend a Harvest Festival or similar event, the experience could be similar for your child (candy, costumes, etc). We want to take a few minutes to remind you of how to take special care of your adopted children around this holiday in several key areas:
1. Seeing costumes: Whether it is in the store, on TV, in your neighborhood, at school, or even at your front door if you entertain trick-or-treaters, remember that costumes can sometimes be overwhelming and scary for our children. Children with a history of trauma may be flooded by significant memories or emotions upon seeing a certain type of costume, or they may be reminded of their all-too-often nightmares, or struggle with reality vs. pretend. If your child has a lot of fears or sensitivity around this, help him/her avoid scary situations if possible. Be prepared to slow down your routine to comfort your child if needed. If your child is not too overwhelmed by it, spend some time in the store looking at the costumes and letting your child see that they are "pretend". If you have a lot of trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood and are worried about your child’s reaction to seeing ghouls at the front door, consider turning out the lights to discourage others from approaching your house, or taking a “family getaway night” to minimize exposure.
2. Wearing costumes: Children oftentimes live out their fantasies through costumes and playing dress-up. If you allow your child to wear a costume at Halloween, consider encouraging your child to choose a costume that brings out the best in him or her, or creates a fun memory. Children who wear superhero costumes often feel a sense of confidence and power when they put it on; dressing as an elderly person may help a child feel a great sense of connection with grandparents; dressing as a toy might increase a sense of playfulness. Dressing up together in similar costumes as a parent and child might be a fun means of connecting with your child.
3. Candy: Candy abounds at Halloween, and it can be a 2-edged sword. Overindulgence can lead to erratic blood sugar levels and related misbehaviors, not to mention upset tummies. To restrict your child completely can lead to resentment and hidden misbehavior. If there is any exposure to Halloween candy in your home, it is important that you use balance and discretion. Some ideas to help with this are to ensure your child is getting a good, filling meal before candy time; set limits ahead of time to let a child know how much candy he/she can have at one time; help them plan ways they can be generous with their candy, like taking it to a nursing home or sharing with friends at a party later; divide remaining candy onto a calendar board or similar visual tool, so they can see how much candy they can have each day; or perhaps make eating a piece of candy together a special, connecting time with you.
4. Sensory overload: The five senses can definitely be overloaded at Halloween with its many sights (costumes, lights), sounds (doorbells, noise makers), smells (fake smoke), tastes (candy), and touches (itchy or hot costumes). It is likely that children who are sensitive to stimulation may “meltdown” before the day is over. Prepare for any events with realistic expectations and an exit strategy. Be watchful of your child, and look for signs of sensory overload. Be ready to intervene and help your child with self-regulation and calming mechanisms if you see the overload coming.
5. Expectations: Keep in mind that expectations play a large role in our emotional reaction to an event. If you are anticipating any activities around Halloween, it is important that you talk to your child about it for several days leading up to it. Help your child think through the details of the event—what will be happening, what costumes are about, what it might look like, how much candy they can have, how long it lasts, and so on. If your family does not celebrate Halloween but your child is exposed in other ways, have conversations about this to help your child better understand, and find ways to engage in alternative playful fun that increases connection in your home and family.
If you have any questions about this or any other adoption parenting topics, please reach out to us!
This article was written by Amber Lewis, Clinical Supervisor with America World Adoption, and the Director of Social Services in our Oklahoma office. Amber has more than 20 years experience as a professional counselor and over 12 years in the adoption field. She is a parent by birth and by adoption.
ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching. Explore ACT services on our website here, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.