Going Trick or Treating with Kids

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“I am going to get so much candy this year. We need to make sure to go to our neighbor’s house first as they always give away a lot of candy,” said the eight year old boy.

His four year old sister responded, “Do they really give all that candy? I am scared of that house. They have all those witches and gravestones around it.”

Halloween can be a fun time for children as they have a chance to dress up and go out trick or treating. In addition to getting candy or treats, trick or treating gives children a wonderful opportunity to practice several important developmental skills.

One skill that is helped with trick or treating is learning how to talk to other adults and have conversations with them. The process of knocking on a door or going to a booth and interacting with others can be a scary process for younger children. Yet, they also gain self-confidence when they are able to successfully interact with another person outside of their family. There is even a built in reward for them to do so as they can get candy or other treats if they succeed.

Another skill that children can practice when trick or treating is having some control over their environment. Trick or treating can give children more independence than they are typically allowed as they can choose what houses to go to and who will do the talking at the door. Children can also select the candy or treat that they want. This taste of independence can start children getting used to having increased responsibility for their own decisions and behavior.

Despite these advantages, trick or treating can be more of a challenge for some children. In some cases, the whole trick or treating activity can backfire and lead to children having meltdowns.

Parents can take some steps to minimize meltdowns and other issues from arising prior to going trick or treating. The first step is to make sure that children’s costumes are comfortable. Children will be wearing these costumes all night. If the costume has scratchy material, has a helmet, requires face paint, or has special shoes, then parents should have children do a test run in the costume and wear it for a couple of hours before they go trick or treating. That way the costume can be modified if necessary.

Another step is to practice the trick or treat routine with children. Younger children in particular may be unfamiliar with how to trick or treat or what to say. Parents can rehearse what to say with them and help to ease younger children’s anxiety and have them become more comfortable with the routine.

A third step is for parents to remind children that there still will be consequences for misbehavior, even on Halloween. While Halloween is meant to be fun, children need to realize that good manners and polite behavior are still expected. This means going over the rules and associated consequences for children who are rude and disrespectful. This can include receiving timeouts when they get home, stopping trick or treating, or losing candy or treats.

A final step is for parents to be aware of their children’s fears. Halloween can be a scary time for children. Parents with young children who struggle in being able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality or have specific phobias with Halloween images should make alternative plans to trick or treating.

After all, Halloween and trick or treating is supposed to be fun. Parents should think about how their children are likely to react to Halloween and the trick or treating process. If it seems that no one will have fun, then families can choose a different way to celebrate the holiday.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Friday on October 30, 2015

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