Halloween can be an exciting time of year with spooky cobwebs, glowing pumpkins, haunting ghosts and treats galore. Many children and adults enjoy taking part in the fun, and “sensational” activities that come along with such a spirited holiday. For others, especially children who have a harder time with sensory processing, it can become quite an overwhelming experience.
With a little extra preparation, Halloween can be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. The following are a few tips* to make this Halloween a great one.
Prepare your child for the holiday by helping them to understand the tradition
- Tell stories about Halloween or read Halloween themed books
- Discuss the rules and boundaries of the holiday and your expectations
- Role play and pretend so they know how to handle situations that may arise while at a party, having visitors or visiting others during Halloween activities
- Let them know exactly what to expect and avoid any surprises (the good, bad and scary of it all)
Get the costume right
- Try out some inexpensive “practice costumes” to help them to get used to wearing one. Make your own and do some pretend play. You could make a cape out of an old T-shirt, or cut a paper plate into a crown/mask (just add some elastic or string)
- Make sure that the costume that you purchase for Halloween events is right for your child. Have them try it on to be sure that it fits and feels right. It won’t be too “scratchy” or uncomfortable, and will be cool or warm enough depending on what activities you plan on participating in. Also consider whether face paint or a mask is right for your child.
Prevent the dreaded meltdown
- Try to limit the duration of events, and to know what to expect if you will be attending a gathering. This way you can have a plan, allow your child to know the structure of events and give them a chance to make choices and feel in control of the situation and thus themselves.
- Allow your child to explore the fun that Halloween has to offer, but keep a close eye on them and stay tuned in to how they may be feeling. If they begin crying, looking fatigued, too hyperactive or combative it may be time for a break. Find somewhere less stimulating and take them for a break from the sensory overload they may be experiencing.
Plan ahead and consider which activities would best suit your child
- Try trick-or-treating in a controlled environment. Some local organizations arrange trick-or-treat experiences that may be more your child’s speed. Also, many nursing homes and hospitals set up special times for children to visit with the patients or residents. It is a great opportunity to participate in a Halloween event while brightening someone’s day!
- If trick-or-treating isn’t for you, that is OK!! There are many other ways you can enjoy the season and get in the spirit of Halloween. Make some Halloween crafts, decorate pumpkins with paint or stickers, experiment with Halloween food recipes, roast pumpkin seeds or try out some structured sensory play.
Blog by: Ashley Yankanich, MS, OTR/L, IMC
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*Halloween tips were adapted from:
American Occupational Therapy Association (2011). American Occupational Therapy Association tip sheet.
The complete document can be found at: