Holidays & celebrations

5 Common Halloween Challenges for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues

By Melissa A. Kay

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With its candy and costumes, Halloween is an exciting day for kids. But for some kids with learning and attention issues, it can be overstimulating or even scary. Here are tips to help keep Halloween happy for your child.

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Mother adjusting her young son’s costume before they head out for trick-or-treating
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Uncomfortable Costumes

The problem: Halloween is the time for cute, spooky and creative costumes. But for kids with sensory processing issues, costumes can feel unpleasant. The unusual sensation of masks, makeup, wigs and fancy fabrics may be uncomfortable or even intolerable.

What to do: Have your child wear his costume around the house once or twice before the big day to try it out. If he can’t get comfortable, you can always swap it out for something closer to his normal clothing. Or try a fun sweatshirt with a Halloween theme.

Child dressed as a ghost checking his candy haul
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Candy, Candy, Candy!

The problem: For many kids, sweets are the best part of Halloween. But with all those tempting treats, it’s easy for any kid to overdo it. And for some children with learning and attention issues, controlling impulses may be especially difficult, particularly when they’re excited. That means they may be even more likely to eat too many Halloween treats—and feel sick the next day.

What to do: Tell your child ahead of time that he can pick out four or five treats to enjoy on Halloween night. Take what’s left and work with him to set up a plan for the rest. Maybe the Halloween candy can be put into a bowl and used for upcoming desserts. You can also let him trade some treats for tasty but non-sugary alternatives like pizza, or even for toys and stickers.

Group of children participating in a halloween party game
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Trick-or-Treating Troubles

The problem: Children with learning and attention issues may find the hustle and bustle of kids running from house to house challenging, disorienting or even frightening. The flickering jack-o’-lantern lights, the creepy decorations and the general ruckus can heighten sensory processing or attention issues.

What to do: If you suspect that trick-or-treating will be tough on your child, there are alternatives. Many malls, recreation centers and parks offer a more controlled trick-or-treating experience. You can also consider having a party at home or in your yard. Or you can have your child pass out candy with you when other trick-or-treaters come by.

Young girl dressed as a with receiving candy from a homeowner
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Unfamiliar Social Situations

The problem: Interacting with kids in strange or scary costumes may not come naturally to children with social skills issues. And asking adults for candy may feel frightening.

What to do: Before the big night, prepare your child by explaining what he can expect and acting out different scenarios. Practice trick-or-treating. Rehearse how he can respond to comments on his costume. And talk to his friends’ parents to find out what their kids will be wearing. That way you can get your child ready for how different his friends will look.

Parents walking in the woods with their two young children dressed as skeletons
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Unexpected Accidents

The problem: It’s important for kids to stay safe on Halloween—and to feel safe, too. But if your child has learning and attention issues like visual processing issues, you may want to take extra steps.

What to do: To maximize your child’s safety, check that he can breathe well through his mask, see others clearly and walk without tripping. And be sure to go trick-or-treating while it’s still light out. To keep him feeling safe, scope out the neighborhood in advance. If there’s a house that looks too spooky or that’s known for “tricks,” plan to skip it. And let your child know you can walk to each door with him if he wants you to.

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Understood does not endorse or receive financial compensation for the sale of any of these products.

About the Author

Portrait of Melissa Kay

Melissa A. Kay is a writer, editor and content strategist in the areas of family, health, employment, beauty, lifestyle and more.

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Portrait of Donna Volpitta

Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., is coauthor of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting.

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