As we enter into a new season with the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and ongoing social distancing guidelines, many families are wondering how to modify their fall traditions — most notably…Halloween. Children who have been lacking social interaction with alternate schooling formats and drive-by birthday parties may be especially excited about Halloween. They are likely anticipating what is “normal” — dressing up in costumes, having parades, parties and running with large groups of neighborhood kids to collect candy during trick-or-treating. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of these traditions are simply not a safe option. Halloween, as with everything else since March 2020, will need to look different this year.

Parents may feel nervous about “crushing their child’s dreams” and piling on yet another disappointment in a long string of losses. Some parents may avoid thinking or talking about Halloween because it feels difficult and, let’s be honest, all the parents are exhausted. But parents will likely find that mustering the energy to plan ahead will make Halloween more fun and exciting.

Children and teens (like their adult counterparts) do best when they know what to expect. Halloween looking different this year will be more disappointing if your child spent weeks creating and looking forward to a plan that is not workable. However, if your family can slowly start talking and planning ways that Halloween — and the fall season in general — can look different this year, you can create fun and exciting opportunities that your kids will look forward to.

How to start: remind your kids that fall means that Halloween is coming up. Ask them about what they have enjoyed most about Halloween and fall in the past. Talk about the social distancing precautions and how things like school parades and large indoor parties will not be taking place. Be honest — if you are unsure if your friends or neighbors will have modified trick-or-treating, let your kids know that it is still unclear. If you know your family will not participate in any trick-or-treating, let your kids know that, too. Now, the important part, brainstorm ideas together. Think about ways to modify your favorite activities or create new activities that may become part of your future family traditions. Add activities to your schedule so your kids can look forward to the next fun event.

Trick-or-treating alternatives

Here are some brainstorming suggestions to help your family get started:

  • If your kids typically dress up for Halloween, let them help order or make costumes. Consider trying themed costumes with your family or with some of their friends.
  • Plan a Zoom Halloween party for your kids’ friends or for your extended family. Encourage everyone to dress up. You can plan games or send ahead craft plans so the kids can do a shared activity.
  • Research themed snacks and treats to make and share as a family.
  • Plan a socially distanced (outdoor with masks) pumpkin carving party for a small group or with neighbors from everyone’s front yard.
  • Decorate the yard/house in the days leading up to Halloween. Consider starting a house decorating contest in your neighborhood.
  • Make signs or chalk drawings for neighbors to enjoy.
  • Look into safe/socially distanced pumpkin or apple picking farms near you.

Remember, different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different. The more time your kids have to adjust to disappointments with any traditions that will be cancelled or modified, the more time they have to create fun alternatives and build excitement about new plans!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura GrayLaura Gray, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Children's National Hospital.

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