taking the HAUNT out of Halloween (adoption/foster)

(In this post when I talk about our children who came from a scary place, I am including those who were neglected or abandoned. Although they weren’t abused or frightened by some larger person, their experience was extremely fearful for a child.)

halloween haunt

I’m not a fan of fear. In college you would have thought differently. The movie Fear was released when I was in college, and it was played numerous times in my dorm. I read books that made me think every noise was an intruder coming to take my life. I went to the best haunted houses in the Phoenix area. It was a phase, a very brief phase. I no longer like haunted, scary, or spooky.

We all know that Halloween can be filled with some frightful stuff, some people thrive on it, some love scaring others, or being spooked themselves. But what happens when our children who’ve come from some really scary places meet bloody, spooky, skeletons? It doesn’t help them.

Our children who’ve been through trauma have logged their fears and concerns in their brain. In The Whole-Brain Child, Dan Siegel writes,

“What’s crucial to understand about implicit memory – especially when it comes to our kids and their fears and frustrations – is that implicit memories cause us to form expectations about the way the world works, based on our previous experiences.”

Because our children have previous experiences that were scary and worrisome, they are basing their view of the world through that lens. So, what happens when a teenager with a gory mask steps in front of them during trick-or-treating? No matter how much we’ve talked, saying, “You’ll see scary things, masks, statues, but it’s all pretend. A kid is wearing that costume,” our child will be frightened.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry writes,

“…If the incoming information is initially unfamiliar, new, or strange, the brain instantly begins a stress response. How extensively these stress systems are activated is related to how threatening the situation appears. It’s important to understand that our default is set at suspicion, not acceptance. At a minimum, when faced with a new and unknown pattern of activity, we become more alert.” (Emphasis is mine.)

That section about our default being “set at suspicion” is referring to people who have not necessarily experienced trauma. How much more will our child who has definable reasons to fear and suspect respond to the unfamiliar, strange, or in this case, scary? They will become frightened.

When I was of trick-or-treating age, the tricks were much less terrifying. With the ever widening capabilities of plastic molds come scarier masks. Just today I saw one that ran a blood resembling substance under a clear plastic that was molded to a really creepy mask. That didn’t exist in my youth, but I was still plenty worried about whatever creature might poke its head from behind a bush, no matter how real it looked.

Our children store their fear in their brain in an area called the amygdala. When they’re frightened or anxious, their brain immediately brings up those stored memories (even if they can’t identify or name them, they know the feeling).

This can cause a number of reactions in our children. They can become defiant, or get an attitude as a way to protect themselves and be in charge of the situation.

They may question and try deciding for themselves if what they’re seeing or experiencing is safe or not, without listening to your counsel. Bruce Perry also writes, “Human beings fear what they don’t understand. The unknown scares us.” Once again, Perry is referring to a person who hasn’t experienced extended trauma.

Before our children have bonded with us and begin to trust us, they live in a fearful state, so scaring them more will add to what’s already happened. It won’t be funny, it won’t be easily forgotten, it will compound the problem.

So, can you do? Months before Halloween begins, displays are set out in stores with moving skeletons, our neighbors put out a full Headless Horseman display and more. Even when it’s not Hallow’s Eve, kids now wear hoodies that cover their faces with artwork of various evil designs. I’m not saying all this is wrong, I won’t share my opinion, but what I do know is that we need to protect our children as much as possible. Here are some ideas you can incorporate to take the HAUNT out of Halloween:

  • Talk about what your kids might see surrounding Halloween, during trick-or-treating, or at school festivities. Remind them that it’s not real, and if a child or adult is wearing a costume that there is a person underneath. If there is a particular one you can’t get away from, say on a Subway, ask that person to show their face so your child won’t be as frightened.
  • Avoid scary as much as possible. This can be difficult, I know. Last year we went to our downtown Farmer’s Market, a seven+ foot tall monster roamed the street, and this was in September! On Halloween night don’t go to the house that has a man in the yard with his head chopped off, just don’t go there. Walk far around scary yards and creepy costume covered people.
  • Don’t let your child stare, try finding something to distract them. Payton has always honed in on the scary. She will stare at the store displays or people who are dressed in alarming costumes. We try to distract her, and sometimes it works, but we have to be aware of what she’s looking at.
  • Find safer Halloween alternatives. When you go door to door, you don’t know who or what will come out to greet you with a bowl of eyeballs. Really not cool. You don’t know what will jump out from behind those bushes, and you don’t know when that eerie skeleton will get its groove on. Some malls offer a safe alternative, churches and schools do too.

I hope this helps take the HAUNT out of Halloween and helps you understand why fear isn’t good for our kids. May you have a safe and fun filled Halloween.

You can also check out this other post on making Halloween happier.

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making Halloween happier (adoption & foster care)

happierhalloween

How do we stay sane during Halloween? It can be hard, even with kids who don’t have sensory issues, or attachment issues. The first goal is to make it fun for your child. For children with attachment issues, I don’t agree with the approach of removing everything fun in their life. If there’s no fun, there are no opportunities to grow as a family, nor do they feel they will ever get to do anything, so why try to be good? Let them do something for Halloween, and I don’t just mean attending a school party.

Even though you’re letting your child participate in Halloween, that doesn’t mean all expectations go out to the trash with the candy wrappers. Have guidelines before you go out; what you will be doing, what you expect them to do, and how you expect them to act. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but you need to set a precedent.

A major component of Halloween is costumes, and they can be a catastrophe. Mom has expectations of what her child will wear, how cute it will be. She puts the costume on her adorable daughter, and daughter promptly removes it saying, “I hate the wig, it itches.” I’m not veering too far off our last costume trial. There are still some of us who still live in LaLa Land where cute children wear adorable outfits, where we spend too much money and are disappointed when our child doesn’t want to wear what we planned.

This doesn’t mean we come up with a new ensemble, no. But it does remind me that Halloween is for my child to get some candy and hopefully have fun. Battling the costume makes it fairly miserable for everyone.

If you adopted and your child was neglected or abused, there’s a chance they have sensory issues. In short, sensory issues means a person has heightened sensitivities to everything, and Halloween can bring on everything. (Sometimes people who have sensory issues need sensory input, but this night is usually a sensory overload.)

Bright lights, cold weather, hot costumes, screaming, laughing kids, blaring music, skeletons that make sudden movements, scratchy, itchy outfits. It’s a lot for a typical person, but add sensitivities and it can be an irritating, maddening conglomeration. So don’t fight the costume. If this is the first time you’ve become aware of sensory issues and notice them in your child (you can read more about them HERE), then go ahead and buy a different costume with comfort in mind.

We have a friend whose son has Aspergers, and he wore a sheet (ghost) for a couple years (he’s seven, so you know he’s not a teen who just wants easy so he can bag some candy). By the end of the evening last Halloween, the ghost was a ghost no more, the sheet was off. Wearing anything was irritating to him, and even the sheet was too much by the end of the day. His parents opted for a good time rather than a battle. They recognized his sensitivities and went with it.

Our son who has Autism has some of those same sensitivities. Last year he loved Cat in the Hat, in fact one of the few words he said was, “Go, go, go…” from the show Cat in the Hat on PBS. At the last minute we ran to the shop and purchased costumes, and they had THE Cat! Perfect. He also had an obsession with hats at the time, so we thought this costume was a dunk in the tank. Well, he wore the hat for two houses, and it was off. It’s okay, we were lucky he wasn’t tearing off the remainder of the outfit while he traversed the streets in his wagon.

J&Phalloween12

The wagon… while trick-or-treating, the adults on the other side of the door asked several times if he wanted candy, and they looked at him with a forlorn expression, feeling bad that our poor child was stuck in a wagon while his sister (who is the same size) walked to each door and collected her stash. What those people didn’t know: Jeremiah had no idea what we were doing, he would’ve fought going to each door (because he didn’t know what we were doing), he didn’t eat candy (not the kind they were handing out anyway), and he was comfortable in his safe wagon. That last point is most important. If we are going to let Payton have a good time trick-or-treating, then Jeremiah should be kept comfortable, and he was.

During trick-or-treating, or any event that includes walking farther than one-hundred feet, our son, Jeremiah, rides in that wagon or a stroller. (That doesn’t mean he’s inactive, on the contrary he’s VERY busy, but this is for his sanity, as well as ours.) This year his wagon will go as Lightening McQueen from the movie Cars, and he will be “driving.” He loves the movie Cars and any of the little Cars vehicles that have eyeballs attached. Even though he may not notice what he’s riding in, we know we did our best to give him what he likes and what’s most agreeable to him.

Don’t let costumes add to your battles, there are enough. Make an effort to have fun, and know that it may not work out, but if it does, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Have a Happy Halloween.

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.

trick or treat smell my feet

I had a double whammy. Both Justin and his mom were teaching Payton to say, “Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” But when it came time to collect the goodies she barely remembered to say, “Trick or treat,” she

Trick or Treat

was so focused on the candy in the bowls. =)

We had a great time on our second Halloween with kiddos!!