Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween with a Highly Sensitive Child

Ah, Halloween, the intense, incredibly stimulating holiday adored by children everywhere. Or is it?

For many of our more unique children, it's not such a simple, happy-go-lucky celebration as the media would like us to believe.

This was my fifth year celebrating Halloween with my son who I consider to be highly sensitive. (For more on this trait, see Elaine Aron's fantastic book, The Highly Sensitive Child, and my post, here). In the most basic terms, highly sensitive children feel things more deeply-- both physically and emotionally. They do not have a disorder, but they do need a careful attention. With this trait, you will find conscientious, observent, perceptive people; I would say that they often possess that "old soul" quality from a young age.  

You will also find strong, often difficult reactions to situations that would barely register in less sensitive people. They are both challenging and incredibly rewarding children to raise. Aron estimates that about 15-20% of people have this particular temperament trait.

So needless to say, we had not done much trick-or-treating with our young son until last year, when he was four. Other families start when their children are very little, with dolled-up babies that they bring around from house to house, and that may work well for them. But not for us. I'm guessing other parents with sensitive children also hold off longer than 'average' families.

The good news: I have some Halloween suggestions for families who have highly sensitive children. I think they could also be worthwhile tips for those who have children with sensory processing challenges, autism, or behavior challenges. If you don't have children like this in your brood, I urge you to read on anyway: my ideas will hopefully help you to better understand our children and to not make (the all-too-common) assumptions that our children are impolite, shy, undisciplined, or 'weird.'

The more people who can be open and understanding to our unique kids, the more we all benefit. All children have special gifts, but some children's gifts can't be appreciated unless we try a little harder.

Without further ado, if you are planning on taking your highly sensitive child trick-or-treating, here are a few tips that have helped us:

1. Wait a little longer. Is everyone else in your neighborhood waddling around with their easygoing, sociable toddlers? It can make you feel left out, right? Like 'what are we doing wrong?' You are doing nothing wrong-- and in fact, you are doing something very right-- by waiting until you have a strong sense that your child will actually enjoy it. There's no fun in dragging around an anxious, overstimulated child.

2. When you do decide your child is ready, let him choose his costume. No, they probably will not choose an elaborate, crazy, uncomfortable costume. They will likely want to wear something already within their comfort zone. My son chose to be a tennis player this year, which was fine by me: he simply wore sporty clothes he already likes and carried his tennis racket (his favorite sport). I didn't really care that other people spent 50 bucks (or hours of their time) on fancier costumes if my son was happy and confident in his simple homemade one.

3. Role play and prepare. If you have a highly sensitive child, you are probably already accustomed to thoroughly explaining and preparing her for new situations. Do this for Halloween too! Practice answering your door and letting her say "trick or treat." Prepare her for the (often loud, in-your-face questions people will ask (What are you dressed as? How old are you? Only take one candy!). Have her practice saying thank you (even if they don't like the candy). I can't even imagine taking my kid to trick or treat without rehearsing all of this. It will truly help your child be less surprised and caught off guard.

4. Keep it short. My husband and I always try to quit while we're ahead with both of our kids, but especially with our son. I believe that ending on a positive note so they form happy memories of the new event is key for future success. We went to about five houses when he was four, and under 10 houses when he was five, and that was plenty! No Halloween parties for us!

I'm happy to report that my son loved every second of Halloween this year. The role-playing, the rehearsing, the costume-choosing, the waiting-- it was all worth it to experience the fun of Halloween as a family, in our own way.

Remember, no matter what your unique situation is, what other people do is not what is always best for your children, and that really is okay.

How have you changed holiday traditions to better fit your children and your family's needs? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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  1. These are really awesome, Julia, and even from the pov of someone who doesn't have a HSC... it's good to be *aware* of these things, too!

    1. Thanks, Dakota! Yes, I was really hoping that this post would be beneficial for parents without an HSC too. According to Aron's research, about 1 or 2 of every 10 people is considered highly sensitive, and I love it when people who don't have kids that fall into that 10-20% try to understand them better.

  2. Oh!! I must say this is RELIEF!! We have had the hardest week ever with my very Highly Sensitive Child.The tears, the snapping at me ( which was just an expression of his hidden frustration) - Oh the book has been my Saving Grace. Just as I thought we were doing better with stage fright, there was more coming! His class has been preparing for a musical and my son is a wonderful singer. He knows his notes and loves music but another child has been pushing and pinching him during practice. He could handle that, I am glad
    .BUT the teacher mindlessly blamed him for the indiscipline and called him the worst child ever. Oh! Julia I haven't seen my son so upset before. He has been a liitle baby all this week. So, off I went to the teacher, and let her know. I don't know if that set things right at school but It broke my heart. He is feeling better now,his appetite is back,finally. We are taking it very slow too. I have been lugging my toddler to his practice.Looking at me helps him, and so does a gentle touch. And praise from his teacher who has recently realized how well he sings. I am still picking up pieces and and know we are going to have to struggle for little things other kids can just hop over. But that my kid feels for others in distress makes me feel so awfully proud of him. No comparison is key,I have realized. I need to thank you for recommending the book .How else would we have surviived? Phew!!

    1. Oh, wow!! What a week for you. I hope it helps to know that I could see the exact same sort of situation happening to my son. When something affects him, it affects our entire family in a big way. Good for you for seeking out the teacher. I hope she starts to see that your son wasn't actively defying her. It's so hard to hear these things, isn't it?!
      I am so glad you like the book. It has been my saving grace too. By the time I was at about page 5 I was like "This is MY KID!" and it all fell into place-- all of the things I couldn't put my finger on...all of the things that make him a little different from the other 80-90% of kids... Whew, it can be a challenge to raise them, but the wisdom they offer-- and the sympathy they teach us-- has been a hard-earned gift.

  3. Great info!! Pinned for reference next year. Oh and my heart goes out to you for the week you had.

    1. Thanks for reading! I hope it helps you or someone you know next year. I would have loved to know all of this before other disastrous attempts :).


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