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Making the most of Halloween

All Hallows’ Eve has been celebrated throughout Europe for centuries. For hundreds of years, we have paid homage to saints (or ‘hallows’) on the last evening of October by ‘guising’ or dressing up as saints and going from home to home.

This ‘guising’ tradition has evolved to our modern-day trick or treating - and the costumes have become more about witches, wizards, ghouls and ghosts with a few cartoon or movie characters thrown in!

Some families can hardly wait for Sunday evening. For them, it’s a great opportunity to get creative, dress up, play up and get outside and have some spooky fun!

Other families are less keen about getting involved in this increasingly commercial, sugary and often gory festival. Some children are fearful about venturing out in the dark, encountering scary masked faces and knocking on strangers’ doors. On the other hand, they may want to be involved because they worry they might be missing out!

Regardless of whether going trick-or-treating is the most hotly anticipated or dreaded event this month, here are some ideas that may help.

Think ahead and agree what will happen

Spontaneity with kids full of sugar in the dark who don’t know exactly where they are, or how they’re supposed to behave, is not going to work well!

Talk with the children this week about what will happen, and when, and who needs to do what on Sunday evening.

Having these conversations in advance has multiple benefits.

It reduces the stress on you of having to make decisions in the moment in front of the kids. It reduces the stress on the kids because they won’t get into (so much) trouble as they beg, nag, plead, whine and then take matters into their own hands ….

Most of all these problem-solving and planning conversations are a really good way to boost your child’s cognitive skills and they help your child feel involved in what happens to them.

Things you might want to consider are confirming which streets or homes you plan to visit, and when you will start and what time you will head home. Get down to the details – who holds the torch, who carries the bucket, who knocks on the door ….

Children with high sensory awareness for sounds, smells, lights and other physical sensations, will not be able to stay out as long as children who are not so easily affected.

Maybe you decide to keep it short and sweet, and so think about how she might be feel, having to go home earlier than her friends or older siblings, and be ready to empathise. Maybe you decide to stick it out to the bitter end, with a couple of planned mini-breaks along the way to allow your child a chance to re-group or calm down.

It will also be helpful to check and confirm costumes are ready to avoid last minute panics and upsets.

If your child wants to do their own thing in their own style, and doesn’t want to follow the crowd as a witch, ghost or zombie, that’s fine.

Discuss safety & make a plan

Decide in advance – rather than in the moment - how close do the children need to stay to you, whether they need to hold hands, where they should wait for you if they go ahead.

And it’s important to make a plan in case you get separated, particularly if your child is worried about this happening.

If they are already nervous about getting separated, telling them that it won’t happen does not reassure them.

Talking about what they can do in this situation will help soothe them because part of their worry is about not knowing what to do.

Re-cap the usual safety precautions or advice you give your children. It will help to visit any safety spot in the daylight and talk about how it might look different at night.

the big sugar issue

We leave the decisions on sweets up to you!

Maybe you recognise this evening as a bit of a free for all, and decide to let it happen. Maybe you know your child won’t be able to handle the excess sugar and you’ll take a slow and steady approach.

It’s a great chance to talk about GO-SLOW-WHOA foods – the ones you can eat as much as you like, the ones you need to eat less regularly, and the ones you eat with caution.

A limit will need to be set in advance, and your child will need some empathy and some ideas about how not to crack and eat everything in his or her bucket or pockets!

Maybe you agree to bring most of the sweets home and indulge yourselves, one by one, over the next month. Maybe you will consider donating the chocolate and sweets to your local dentist surgery or Food Bank.

if your child is scared and reluctant to get involved

Children under 6 find it hard to distinguish between reality from fantasy so they can get really scared. Even older children may not enjoy the mood and atmosphere.

However old they are, remember they are HAVING a problem about Hallowe’en rather than BEING a problem.

We recognise that their reluctance or even refusal to get involved creates difficulties for you – particularly if you really enjoy your night out on the streets with a cape and a wand!

But just as with any other worry or fear, the best approach is to talk about it together.

Whatever your child’s worries or fears are, they are very real and valid to them even if they seem trivial or obtuse to us.

Gently ask your child what frightens them. It could be the dark, the masks, the scary make-up, the blood or gore, or the threat within the trick. The way we ask makes all the difference to whether they can or will answer!

Rather than directly saying “what is wrong, why are you so scared” they’re more likely to respond if we say “I wonder if ….” or “Maybe it’s the ….” or “Perhaps it might be the …..”

Whatever they say, accept their response.

Don’t say “oh no, that doesn’t matter” or “don’t be silly, it isn’t true” or “it will be fine, you just need to stop worrying so much”.

We hope these responses will make our kids feel braver. But it doesn’t work that way. Instead, our child feels misunderstood and wrong. The lesson they learn is that they need to keep their fears to themselves. And that’s not what we want.

We want our child to feel that we understand, and that we care, and that we’re not scared ourselves – either about the dark or the masks, or about our child being scared.

When we listen calmly to our children’s worries, it immediately starts to help dissipate their worries. It is the first step out of their “Worry Brain” where they feel panicked and powerless. When they feel heard and validated, they are more able to listen to (or even think of) solutions that may help.

Brainstorm solutions or offer alternatives

We would love to offer you a list of guaranteed solutions for every Hallowe’en worry. But you know your children best and we also know how creative you can be!

Maybe you and your child decide to do one or two homes, and take that as a first Hallowe’en success. Maybe you and your child will come up with a special sign or code they can give when they want to stop but don’t want everyone to know they’re scared and want to go home.

Maybe you’ll choose to stay at home and have your own private indoor Hallowe’en Evening decorating the kitchen with bright lights, pumpkin carving, and baking spiced cookies.

Children feel more secure in their own home, so maybe their first Hallowe’en adventure will putting the pumpkin outside and welcoming visiting witches and spooks.

If not, remember to turn the front lights off!