Helping Children with Trauma at Halloween

Understanding a child’s need to feel safe with a Foster parent

Fear is a normal and natural part of childhood development for children. Children who are in Foster Care who have suffered trauma are often scared of the dark, frightened by thunderstorms, loud voices, or even monsters under their bed. Childhood fears may be incredibly powerful this time of year, when scary Halloween decorations, masks, and costumes seem to be everywhere. As children grow and try to figure out the world around them, they are not entirely sure of what’s fantasy and reality. They may have experienced any trauma added to their already incredible imagination; Halloween can be a scary time for them. ​Foster parents working with children impacted by trauma need to be intentional with Halloween. 

Halloween can be a day full of triggers for those children who’ve been impacted by trauma. There are a lot of transitions and tons of sugar. All of the colors, sounds, and costumes can create stimuli overload, and we often come in contact with more strangers than on a typical day. All of these things can be a trigger for a child of trauma. Triggers can send them right to survival, and once in survival, they often go to FIGHT, FLIGHT, or FREEZE.

This is not a place we want to send our children. We want them to feel safe and secure so that they can enjoy this holiday with their peers. One way to start to ease some of your child’s fear around the holiday is to allow them to help in the Halloween preparations, such as carving the pumpkin or picking out the goodies. ​Try to prepare with your child ahead of time to help put their minds at ease. Allow children to put their costumes on and off in the weeks leading up to Halloween. This will help make the elements surrounding Halloween more understandable and understand that costumes are another way of pretending and that the holiday is meant to be fun. You know your child best. Some children can work through manageable anxiety alongside a caregiver they trust. Others may need more time to adjust.

If your child is not quite ready to trick or treating and ​feels a sense of safety and security in your home, you may want to have a child help hand out candy or goodies. ​Try to limit who you celebrate with, such a close family and friend or a church group that only allows fun costumes, no scary costumes at all. Try to keep decorations and activities centered on pumpkins instead of spooky stuff such as cobwebs, spiders, and monsters. Talk to them about routine and try to keep some regular routines throughout the day and prepare them to be back to regular schedules the following day. Of course, limit the amount of sugar and offer small goodies instead. ​It is also important to provide age-appropriate activities for children who are frightened by Halloween. This will help distract from the scary aspects of the holiday. Make sure you are sensitive to past traumatic events and avoid all dismissive comments such as, “Oh, that’s not scary.” 

Halloween is fun and can be for your child too. There are often several spirited activities to do with young children to ensure you have a fun October and Halloween that won’t include spookiness. 

Look for community activities and fun things that can be done at home, such as baking Halloween cookies, painting pumpkins, and so much more! 

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