8 thoughtful Halloween traditions kids with anxiety or disabilities may love.
For young kids, Halloween should be fun-scary. Not scary-scary.
While your child might do just fine with elaborate costumes, frightening yard displays, and stuffing their face with as much sugary candy as possible, there are many, many others for whom Halloween poses unique challenges.
In the U.S., 1 in 13 children have a serious food allergy, for example, and 1 in 68 have an autism spectrum disorder. And about 1 in 20 school-aged children in the U.S. have a significant physical or mental disability. It all starts to add up, and many of these issues may not be outwardly visible.
If you're hosting a Halloween party, putting up some last-minute decorations, or even just gearing up for trick-or-treaters, here's a few super simple things you can do to make this Halloween more inclusive, accessible, welcoming, and just generally awesome for every kid to participate in:
1. Fruity candies are great for everyone, but especially for kids with food allergies.
Peanut allergies get all the glory, but kids can be allergic to nearly anything. Common food allergies include peanuts, eggs, dairy, and gluten. Some families of candy, however, are safer bets than others.
Fruity candies, like Sour Patch Kids, gummy bears, Skittles, and Starburst, are a great thing to pass out for this very reason, but you can also find special kinds of chocolate made from hypoallergenic ingredients too.
There's nothing wrong with handing out Snickers, Twix, and the usual candy suspects, but if you're looking to offer some other options or want to pick just one kind of candy that pretty much anyone can enjoy, fruity candies are usually a safe bet.
2. Candy may be traditional, but nonedible treats are a good trick-or-treat option too.
In the case of severe allergies, it might be easier for some families to just avoid candy and sweets altogether — a potentially major bummer on a holiday almost entirely based around candy.
But there's a simple solution! Pick up some stickers, crayons, or other small nonedible treats (you can usually find them cheap, in bulk in the party supplies aisle) and offer those as trick-or-treating options alongside or instead of candy.
If you do this, consider putting a teal pumpkin outside your door or near the sidewalk. This signals to trick-or-treaters that you have non-edible treats to offer — letting everyone knows not to skip your house.
3. Having a party? Perhaps set aside a "quiet down room" to give kids a space to get away from the crowd.
A raucous Halloween party with movies and music blaring and kids running around can be overwhelming for anyone, especially young kids with anxiety or hypersensitivity issues.
Consider closing off a room in your house as a quiet and nonspooky zone where kids can just go to chill out. This might be a good place to have low-key crafts or just dimmed lights and a comfy place to sit.
For hyposensitive kids, on the other hand...
4. Offer a variety of hands-on Halloween games and activities that keep kids engaged.
Kids who are hyposensitive are understimulated by the world around them and may prefer tactile activities like sticking their hands in a bowl of peeled grapes to simulate eyeballs, for example.
Child psychologist Dawn Huebner recommends having some games available that aren't purely based on winning or losing too and activities where shy or anxious kids can help (i.e., by passing out supplies or keeping score) without fully participating if they aren't comfortable.
5. For kids who can't get up to your porch or front walkway, bring the candy to them.
If you have a porch or stoop with steps, it might be hard for some kids who use assistance devices (like wheelchairs or walkers) to come up and knock on the door. Consider sitting at the bottom close to the sidewalk or street and handing out candy during peak hours or leaving a bowl closer to the street if you can't be there in person.
You can even rent a ramp for the day, if you're so ... inclined.
6. Remember that costumes and dress-up aren't comfortable for everyone — try not to judge costumes at the door.
We've all seen the teenagers who come trick-or-treating and their "costume" is a paper bag over their heads, and we all know they're just in it for the free candy.
But try not to play costume police, especially with younger kids. After all, trick-or-treating shouldn't be a costume competition. Some kids with anxiety, sensory issues, or even just kids who are really shy might be more comfortable in something that looks, to you, like a half-hearted or lazy get-up. For them, it might be the only reason they were willing to leave the house.
A simple and heartfelt, "You look great!" will go a long way.
7. Have some dedicated "mask off" time.
Super frightening or gory costumes can scare any kid, but Huebner says, "It can be hard to predict what's going to be frightening for a child," noting that often even silly or goofy masks can be very scary for certain kids.
Consider having some periods of mask off time to re-establish comfort.
"For kids who are more broadly afraid, being able to see 'This is a mask and it comes on and off and there's a person inside of it' can be reassuring," she says.
If you're really dedicated to a truly spooky halloween and don't want to take the mask off — see #3 "have a quiet room" above or consider putting a sign by your front walkway alerting parents that their kids might not enjoy trick-or-treating from you.
8. Other parents will definitely appreciate seeing a party agenda in advance.
There's really no way for you to prepare for every possible issue that might arise during a party, gathering, or haunted house, nor should you be expected to have a contingency plan for every single thing that might come up. No one knows kids better than their own parents though.
If you're worried that you might not have something on hand to make your party great for everyone, sending a party agenda in advance is a great way to give parents a chance to prepare their kids for what to expect.
"It works best if hosts are clear in invitations, so families can make decisions about whether they want to go," Huebner says. "Anxious kids, and really all kids, do really, really well with previewing. With being told in advance what's going to happen. It's still exciting, but it's less likely to be really terrifying in a way that isn't fun."
Halloween is a fun, spooky holiday, but it's more fun when everyone can participate.
Feeling a little bit spooked on All Hallows' Eve is great, but it shouldn't be traumatizing. Kids shouldn't be made to feel they're in real danger or that they're being left out of the fun. No one wants that.
Making your Halloween celebrations inclusive and welcoming to everyone doesn't mean doing away with any of your favorite Halloween traditions. All it takes is a little extra thought and some simple preparations to make sure everyone has as awesome time as you do.