Tips for a Trauma-Informed Halloween from a Child Therapist
October is my favorite month of the year. I live in the northeast and watching the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground ignites creativity in me. I get the urge to paint, draw, decorate, light candles, and revel in the autumn sights and smells. It also happens to be the month my daughter was born, and I think that is NO coincidence. The other day as I was marveling at the trees on our ride to school she said "Mom, stop being so delighted by the trees," and it made me laugh a little to think that she finds my obsession annoying, but also happy that she gets to witness my awe at nature. I hope it's something that I pass down to her. Fall is also a season of grief, a time when we say goodbye to the warmth of the sun, goodbye to the leaves, flowers and colors of nature until next year. It is a time to turn inward and notice any grief that might be weighing on us or our children.
If you or someone you love is grieving, please join us November 1-3, from. 12-4 pm ET at the Collective Grief, Collective Healing Conference hosted by Pacesconnection.com. I will be teaching about childhood grief by age group, and what we can do to support each other through tremendous loss. We heal in connection with each other. Save your spot today.
Halloween Can Trigger Traumatic Memories and Feelings
Halloween is a beloved holiday of mine, but for some children (and adults) it can be very triggering. For children that have witnessed violence or death the images and costumes involved with Halloween can trigger those memories pushing them into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn behavior.
Fake blood, scars, stitches, tombstones, among other things, can remind children about the traumas they've experienced. Scary figures lurking around in the dark can make a child feel unsafe and hypervigilant.
In addition, internal feelings of fear or anxiety, like a fast heart rate, can also remind children how they felt during the traumatic event, which can trigger involuntary trauma responses such as aggression, crying, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating at school.
Trauma lives in our bodily emotions, not just in our memories.
How to Create a Trauma-Informed Halloween:
Prepare your child ahead of time for frightening things they might see, hear, feel, or touch. Being prepared in advance can reduce anxiety, build trust between you, and prevent negative outcomes from triggers
Focus on the fun aspects of Halloween like carving pumpkins, visiting a farm, playing games, and baking treats
Avoid activities that are frightening or involve death/blood/gore like haunted houses and hayrides
Teach about the history of Halloween and why people celebrate it with a video
If the child is older than four, make masks together and explain that scary costumes are not real, just like their masks
Create your own tradition on October 31, or choose not to participate in Halloween if that feels right to you or your child
I know that for most people Halloween is a fun celebration, but we can have fun while also being mindful of how neurodivergent children are impacted by ghosts, goblins, witches, and zombies. Of course we can't shield our children from exposure to all scary things, but we can always try to do our best to prevent re-traumatization.
This Halloween put on your "trauma lens" and notice how your child reacts to costumes and decorations. This attention to detail could prevent additional suffering for a child you love.
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