Halloween can be an overwhelming and scary holiday (pardon the pun) for many kids. Kids with allergies can be anxious about what candy they will get, kids with specific fears may be anxious about what costumes they will encounter, kids with sensory issues may be anxious about the unexpected noise and lights they will experience, and shy kids may be anxious about going door to door and speaking up for themselves.
Here are some general guidelines to prepare for a successful Halloween experience:
1- Explain the concept of Halloween using the golden rule of pass or play. Teach that Halloween is all about having fun but that some things can be scary. Point out that being scared is okay because they are still safe. However if they find something too scary they have a choice to pass or play. While it is all in good fun, share that some things may be too scary for them and it is okay to pass on those things. Encourage kids to make that choice on their own. With hyper anxious kids try to encourage more plays than passes. Come up with a reasonable number of passes ahead of time. For instance, have them use a fear scale of 1-10. Decide that anything that raises their anxiety or fear above an 8 is worth thinking about the pass or play rule. But try to limit the passes to 1-2 experiences so that they also learn to face their fears.
2-Try to anticipate certain things that will trigger kids. For example, if a child has sensory issues incorporate earbuds and an eye mask for when they experience sensory overload by the noise and lights. For kids who are nervous about asking for candy try to role play what to say. Practice the exchange a few times and stay with them at the first house while gradually moving farther from the door at subsequent homes. For a kid with allergies, make a plan that at the end of the night a parent will go through all the candy and check to see what is safe.
3- Make it a teaching moment. Use this to teach about the generosity of strangers and how to meet new people. Emphasize practicing social skills at each home like eye contact, being polite, introducing yourself (your costume), etc. Reinforce good behavior.
4- Encourage fun! No matter how much candy or homes you visit reinforce that they were brave for going!
Perfectionism, the tendency to set expectations that are unrealistic or difficult to meet, can be a real challenge for some kids. It may mistakenly look like a kid with poor time management and procrastination behaviors when in fact they are really struggling with anxiety over completing a task perfectly. Perfectionism can be a stand alone trait or be one of many compulsive behaviors like those seen along the OCD spectrum. It can significantly impact academic learning and cause other issues like anxiety and depression.
Here are some signs of perfectionism:
1-Consistent procrastination when it comes to tasks
2-Re-doing, re-writing, or re-checking work
3-Spending a long time on a task that typically should take only a few minutes
4-Stressing out over small details
5-Asking for reassurance or for someone to look over your work before submitting it
Here are some tips for talking to kids about dealing with perfectionism:
Talking to kids about anxiety is a good step in helping them overcome situations that make them feel anxious and that they tend to avoid. Getting children to pay attention to their triggers can help them identify why they feel anxious and help them build tools to handle it.
Here are some helpful tips in talking to kids about anxiety.
1- Give it a name. I often refer to anxiety as a case of the "what-ifs". Kids who are anxious will usually start a sentence with "What-If" followed by some anxiety-inducing thought projected about a future event. "What-if I get on the wrong school bus? What if I forget where my locker is? What if I don't understand my homework?"
2- Give the truths about anxiety. Despite its discomfort, anxiety is not dangerous. In fact many kids are surprised to learn that a good amount of anxiety can actually be helpful and is a normal part of life.
3- Describe the triad of anxiety: body, mind, and behavior. Go over the physical sensations. For example, anxiety can be sweaty palms, upset stomach, warm forehead, dizziness, etc. Connect it to non-threatening situations like when you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are on line at the amusement park but the only difference is that you are not thinking that you are scared. Next, catch what it is you were thinking when you felt this way. Then review what you did when you felt anxious. Did it make it better or worse?
4- Teach kids to be like a detective and pay attention to the clues their body is giving them that anxiety is ahead. Encourage them to spot the clues and catch the "what-ifs" early so that they can change what they are thinking and do something else to calm themselves.
5- Share a time when you felt anxious. Modeling appropriate ways of dealing with anxiety is a powerful tool in reinforcing healthy coping behaviors.