Why Halloween and Trauma Don’t Mix

by | Holidays and Celebrations, Parenting

Ahhh…It’s that time of year again! The kids are finally settled back in school, there’s a delightful chill in the air, the trees are changing colors, and pumpkin spice is all the rage. Yet, seemingly without warning, the kids going absolutely bonkers! Behavior issues are off the charts. Rages and aggression abound, and the string of verbal vomit coming from their sweet little mouths only stops when they are asleep.

 Have you ever stopped to consider why this is?

At least at our house, the answer is Halloween. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. I’m not really a fan of pretending to be something you aren’t, and nor do I care for the general feeling associated with Halloween. I know some people love it, and that’s great. It’s just not ever been my favorite thing.

Especially when my daughter was young, though, we went along with it. We did the cute costume and neighborhood, church, and office trick-or-treat thing because everyone said that’s what we’re supposed to do.

There was even a point where I have to admit that it was actually kind of fun. We lived in a wonderful and close-knit neighborhood at the time. Rather than handing out candy at the door, we started just leaving a bowl of candy on our doorstep, invited the trick or treaters to take one, and went out and enjoyed visiting with all our neighbors. Believe it or not, the kids were respectful and really did just take one! It didn’t take long before many of our neighbors started doing the same thing and trick-or-treat turned into a really fun neighborhood block party where everyone gathered, visited, and handed out candy to each other and all the kids in the streets…because very few people were actually at their houses.

Once my traumatized kids joined our family, though, everything changed. Even the once fun block party was no longer fun anymore. What had once been cute and fun and at least tolerable became something to truly dread and fear. The kids didn’t understand what was going on and they hated every second of it…and they made sure we knew it, too. There really aren’t words to describe how completely awful and stressful the whole season used to be for us. Every bit of their crazy behaviors came out in full force and my sweet little darlings seemed to find demonic super-human strength with which to execute them, too. The worst part was it went on all day, every day through the entire month of October!

Halloween isn’t fun for everyone.

A few years ago, a friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook about her own disdain for Halloween.  Most of her friends didn’t get it at all and couldn’t understand why she felt the way she did. It opened up quite an interesting discussion, though.

As I was typing out my own personal response to the questions that were coming, especially as they related to parenting traumatized kids, I realized something quite amazing. It was the first time I had ever actually given words to my own feelings on the subject. I knew I didn’t like it. I knew it freaked the daylights out of my kids. But, up until this point, I had never really shared my own reasons why…at least not publicly. I had allowed my own emotions, inhibitions, and fear of judgment from others silence me.

Before I posted my responses to that conversation to Facebook, I took the opportunity to copy and paste what I had said and shared it on my own blog. I’m now re-sharing those words again. They are equally as true today as they were when I first posted them several years ago.

“My kids are deeply affected by Halloween, too. It’s not so much the ideology behind it (although I don’t care for that part of it either), it’s that all things scary and spooky and gory and death and everything that goes with it are visually and tactility and emotionally glorified. Costumes of all kinds frighten my kids, candy is a huge trigger for them, and the gory and death stuff (including skeletons and any figure with red eye)…but even the “cute” grave markers [and sounds of even canned and obviously fake evil laughter] make them physically sick and shoot their anger and anxiety radars into orbit. It’s so not pretty when that happens.

Our kids can’t control these triggers. They aren’t choosing to react to them. They happen at a subconscious level. They happen generally without warning and can cause severe and abrupt mood and personality changes. Some of these triggers we can explain because we know the reasons behind them, others we can’t.

Remember those old commercials of the egg and the frying pan… “This is your brain…this is your brain on drugs” and they crack and fry the egg? That’s about the size of it. When a person is triggered, they lose all ability to think rationally or even coherently. They do and say indescribable things that no sane person would ever do or even believe…and most of the time they have no idea why.

Now here’s the worst part…even though all this stuff triggers our kids and makes them feel all crazy inside, my kids are still drawn to all that stuff  like flies to a cow pie. They can’t resist it. It’s almost as if it’s ingrained in their souls and calls to them through a megaphone. Yet every time they are triggered by something, it feels as if they are being shot at point-blank range and losing their minds. Try as we might to shield our kids from it, we can’t. It’s everywhere. The schools promote it, every store promotes it, neighbors decorate their yards with hurses and witches and ghosts and shrouded mummies, and EVERYONE seems to think they need to give our kids candy. People judge us as harsh and controlling and restrictive religious zealots because we try to keep our kids from it as much as possible. In reality, we are none of those. We are merely trying to survive!!”

Halloween glorifies trauma

Regretfully, it took a few years to figure out what was really going on and how to change things. To this day, however, I am grateful for that conversation I participated in. That was the day I fully realized what my children were really reacting to and why this whole season is our least favorite time of year.

You see, whether it’s intentional or not, everything about Halloween glorifies trauma. Even when things are kept cute and fun, all the icons and images of Halloween have trauma at their roots. Death, blood, gore, spooky, creepy, scary, abuse and bodily harm are all there.  Regardless of what kind of spin we try to put on them, or how cute, fun, friendly, or silly we try to make them, they all still have trauma at their roots.

They may be just fun and games to those who have lived a relatively normal life, but once you’ve actually lived through and survived horrible, unspeakable things, there is nothing fun about it.

Once all things Halloween started coming at our kids, it stirred the emotions of all the terrible things that happened to them in real life. There was no distinction, and nor was there any escape. All those Halloween decorations and costumes and scenes images stir up the same yucky feelings they had when the bad things happened.  My kids couldn’t (and still don’t) understand why people think these horrible, dark things are fun or funny. They have lived this stuff and know how terrifying they really are when they are played out in real life.

That conversation changed everything!

It turned out I was really glad I had been on Facebook that day. That whole conversation ended up being as freeing as it was enlightening for me. As I put words to what I had been thinking and feeling for so many years, I confirmed to myself that I really do know what I’m talking about, what other people think doesn’t matter, and I didn’t need to hold back or cater to them anymore. More importantly, it was a total game changer for our family, especially when it comes to how we approach Halloween with our special needs kids. 

Check out how Skipping Halloween soon became our new tradition and normal,  what I learned from my kids about why Halloween is really so scary for them, and how we ultimately diffused the worst of those Halloween triggers.

Why Halloween and Trauma Don\'t Mix

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