At a glance
Certain Halloween activities and sensations that other kids enjoy can be difficult for kids with sensory processing issues.
Costumes, crowds, and unfamiliar sights and smells can all be triggers.
With a little preparation, you can help make Halloween easier — and more fun — for your child with sensory processing challenges.
Halloween can be tough for kids with sensory processing issues. From uncomfortable costumes to sudden noises and spooky music, triggers may be hiding in unexpected places. But with a little planning and creativity, you can sidestep Halloween’s potential problems and make it a fun experience for your child.
Here are some common Halloween challenges — and how to help.
Strange and unfamiliar sensations
Decorations like fake cobwebs and mist from fog machines can bother kids with tactile sensitivities. And being around pumpkin “guts” can be hard for those who are sensitive to smells and textures. But there are ways to tackle these issues.
Consider taking your child to explore the Halloween section of a local big-box store. Your child can press buttons to get used to loud noises and spooky lights. Kids can also touch and experience different decorations to see which ones to avoid during festivities or when out trick-or-treating.
If your child doesn’t like the smell or slimy texture of pumpkin insides, try alternatives to traditional jack-o’-lantern carving. Use paint or permanent markers and stickers to decorate your pumpkins.
When it comes to costumes, there’s more to consider than what your child wants to dress up as. It’s important to think about how a Halloween costume feels, fits, and smells, too. If a costume is tight, scratchy, or slippery, or if it has a strong odor, it could bother a child with sensory processing issues.
Here are some ways to make dressing up easier:
- Let your child touch costumes in the store. It helps to know if the fabric is stiff or too scratchy before you buy it.
- Wash a new costume a few times to soften the fabric before your child wears it.
- Avoid masks or face paint if your child is sensitive to smells and textures.
- If your child is sensitive to noise, the sound of their own breathing inside a mask may be an issue. If your child wants to wear a mask, have your child test it out at the store for a few minutes before buying it.
- Encourage your child to practice wearing the costume for increasing lengths of time in the days leading up to a party or trick-or-treating.
- Have your child wear comfortable clothes or pajamas under the costume. This may help your child feel more at ease in Halloween getup. Or your child can just take off the costume altogether if it’s too uncomfortable.
And don’t overlook simple costume ideas. A soft bath towel can make a great cape. If your child is sensitive to noise, noise-canceling headphones could be the perfect base for a construction worker or air traffic controller costume. You could even attach ears to a favorite hoodie and a tail to some sweatpants, making your child a cat, dog, rabbit, or other animal.
Trick-or-treating can also be hard for kids with sensory processing issues. Noisy crowds of kids and flashing decorations may trigger sensory meltdowns.
You may want to have a code word or signal to use if your child feels overwhelmed. Talk about who gets to use it. Can you use it if you think your child needs a break, or is it only for your child to use? And discuss what you’ll do when the signal is used. Will you go home or just take a break to regroup?
Trick-or-treating also tends to contradict stranger safety lessons. This can be tricky for kids with sensory processing issues, who can have trouble with social rules. (That’s especially likely for kids who also have .)
Help your child understand that even though it’s Halloween, the rules are still the same. One way to do this is to go only to the homes of family and friends.
Here are some other ways to help manage trick-or-treating trouble spots:
- Map out and practice the route with your child ahead of time so it feels familiar.
- Go out at dusk or before the streets get very dark and crowded.
- Bring a flashlight.
- Pull your younger child in a wagon or let your older child ride a bike to avoid having other kids crowd or bump into them.
And remember that if trick-or-treating becomes too much for your child, you can always bring your child home to pass out candy to other kids (and eat some of it, too).
Creating new Halloween traditions
If your child doesn’t feel comfortable with typical Halloween traditions, consider creating new ones. You could have a family Monopoly marathon, watch (not-too-scary) Halloween specials together, or go out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.
Maybe your child wants to invite some friends over before trick-or-treating for a costume contest. Or your child could invite them over after for a candy swap. You could even try to organize an afternoon neighborhood costume parade.
The sights, sounds, and traditions of Halloween can be challenging for kids with sensory processing issues. And it may be tempting to skip costumes and trick-or-treating altogether. But by talking about and troubleshooting common concerns, you can help make Halloween less scary and more fun for your child.
Get more tips on how to help kids with sensory processing issues cope with common triggers.
It’s important to try to find ways to help your child with sensory processing issues enjoy Halloween, rather than just avoiding it.
Trick-or-treating may be easier for your child if your child knows what to expect and that they can go home whenever necessary.
For some kids with sensory processing challenges, enjoying Halloween may mean creating new family traditions.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.