Skipping Halloween

by | Holidays and Celebrations, Parenting

One of the hardest…but also most important lessons I’ve learned as a mom of traumatized kids is that sometimes (fairly often, actually) we need do to things differently in order to make them work for our family. Others may not get it and they may even have some strong opinions about how we choose to do things. Whatever! They don’t live with us. They aren’t on the front lines. Nor are they the ones who have to deal with all the aftermath.  

Halloween is one of those things our family has definitely learned to do differently! In fact, it was a matter of survival for us. Halloween used to be an absolutely awful time of year for us. It wasn’t just creepy and spooky. It was downright terrifying! The long and the short of it is that trauma and Halloween don’t mix well…and our kids definitely let us know it. From the minute the decorations and costumes first started appearing in the stores until it all went away in November, my kids would lose their ever-living minds, trauma behaviors reigned supreme, and they had zero tolerance for anything! 

Skipping Halloween

Have you seen the movie “Christmas with the Kranks“? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it! It is one of my most favorite Christmas movies ever. We watch it every year right around Thanksgiving and it still makes me laugh every time! If you’ve ever secretly dreamed of skipping Christmas, this movie is a “must see”.

Although we have never skipped Christmas, we have successfully “skipped Halloween” for many years now. For real…and it has been fabulous!

Halloween used to be fun

Halloween used to be great fun when I was a kid. Our school had an awesome Halloween festival every year early in the evening. There were cakewalks and fish ponds and all kinds of fun stuff to do in every classroom. We all wore our homemade costumes to the festival and then went back to our own neighborhoods to trick or treat.

My dad also used to get really into things, especially as we got a little older, and created some really awesome spook alleys in our front entry hall. One of his favorite things was to get an old refrigerator box, drape it (and the walls) in black fabric, and turn it into a coffin. He would then dress up as Frankenstein and lay in the box. He had a rope attached to the door handle so every time the doorbell rang, he would slowly creek the door open and sit up out of his coffin to hand candy to the kids. There were plenty of screamers and many who quickly jumped the hedge that lined the front porch, but mostly it was just plain fun.

Those same things didn’t work for my kids

During my senior year of high school, I had a few experiences that made me rethink my love of Halloween. What they were doesn’t really matter, but suffice it to say I saw a much darker side of it that I didn’t like at all. I’ve never really liked it since.

However, back when our daughter was young, and for the first couple of years after our boys joined our family, we bowed to social pressure and did Halloween anyway. The kids did the whole costume thing, we went to Dad’s office Halloween spook alley, ad they participate in all the other school and community activities, including trick-or-treating. Every year, especially after the boys came home, though, the whole season got harder and harder and things continued to get worse…much worse…for all of us.  Every crazy behavior you can think of happened all day every day. After enduring an absolutely terrifying and hellacious nightmare of a Halloween night many years ago with the kids’ behavior, we were done! There was no question about it from any of us. In fact, we all vowed that night NEVER AGAIN! 

Doing things OUR way!

It was also about this time I figured out why this particular time of year was so incredibly difficult for my kids. It has a lot to do with trauma triggers and losing their sense of who the good guys were.  Those powerful realizations were game-changers for us. No wonder our kids were freaking out!

Not everyone agreed with us

After that horrible, awful Halloween night and our vow of NEVER AGAIN, we finally had the courage to do what I had wanted to do for years. We skipped Halloween…for real!

This was no small feat! Halloween is a huge deal in our neighborhood. In fact, I dare say it’s out of control! I heard someone put it on a on some “safe neighborhood” registry or something like that. Anyway, people from all over creation swarm our streets on Halloween night and our normally quiet neighborhood turns into chaos. There are hundreds (often close to 1,000) trick-or-treaters…seriously! Rather than getting out of their cars and actually going house to house with their kids, many of the parents drive up and down the streets alongside them, making it a rather dangerous situation for everyone.

The first year we “skipped Halloween”, my kids were still young. Oh, my goodness. You’d think we’d committed a felony or something!

We didn’t care. We bucked all the scorn and judgment and ridicule, along with the copious amounts of unsolicited opinions and parenting advice we heard from people who don’t get it. We also ignored all the nay-sayers who were convinced we were somehow depriving our children of some God-given right of passage and damaging them for life by not allowing them to participate. Oh, how precious little those people understood about the effects of trauma!

Our kids didn’t miss anything!

We didn’t deprive our kids of anything. Reality is that traditional Halloween WASN’T fun for our kids. Ever. We simply stopped trying to convince them it was! We also did what we needed to do to help them get through the constant triggers and insanity going on all around them and feel safe in the process.

Ok, ok. Just like the Kranks couldn’t really skip *all* of Christmas, we can’t and don’t really skip all of Halloween. Much as we wish we could wave a magic wand and make it go away or pretend it doesn’t exist, we can’t. It’s everywhere and there is no escaping it. We now simply deal with it and do what works for US and for OUR family.

Making it Work

Since we can’t make Halloween go away, we acknowledge it and honor it. Rather than doing all the usual stuff, we turned it into a day of family tradition and celebration. We’ve learned a few things over the years that we’ve been doing this. Hopefully sharing them will give you some ideas for a more peaceful season.

Prepare in advance

One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that in order to make our “Skipping Halloween” work, we have to prepare in advance. We learned the hard way that going to the store, even in the morning or middle of the day on Halloween isn’t safe. Too many people come to the store dressed up at all hours of the day and the other kids that are in there are unruly, obnoxious, and do stupid things like sword fighting in the isles with fake bloody swords…because they can.

The kids don’t go to school

My kids also quit going to school on Halloween. This was especially true when they were in elementary school. The celebrations, decorations, and costume parades were all intense triggers and WAY too much for them. Once they hit middle school and high school, depending on what activities are going on that day, they can decide whether to go or not. If the decide not to, I call them in sick…because PTSD is a very real illness. We stay home, hang out in our jammies, watch tv, make cookies, and get things ready for our special family night.

We skip all the other stuff

During the entire month of October, we skip all the church Halloween party, school festivals, office parties, and specifically Halloween themed community events. We don’t carve pumpkins, and I got rid of all the trick or treat buckets and old Halloween decorations (some of which I’d had for years and years.) The only things I kept were my happy-faced lighted pumpkins, which still adorn the top of my hutch all month long.

There’s no place like home!

After many attempts to “go out” and do something fun, we realized there is literally NO PLACE except our own home that is safe for us and our kids on Halloween night. So, that is where we stay. During the big trick-or-treat festivities, we shut out all our lights, close all the curtains and blinds, hide in our basement, and have a very fun family party of our own. We watch movies, play video games, make a mess with silly string, and have a pizza party with all the trimmings.

I dare say one of the most fun parts of our whole night is trying not to get caught that we’re home! Thankfully, we are now well past the days of ridicule and scorn. Skipping Halloween is now just our norm. Since all the neighbors know we don’t do Halloween and their kids never come to our house, we know that anyone who does ring the doorbell isn’t from here and we don’t really care. 

We do, however, make a game out of it. Anyone who gets caught has to do a silly performance in front of all of us. Our stairs are right behind our glass front door, so not getting caught can be a bit of a challenge.

We aren’t completely heartless, though. We do keep a very small amount of candy on hand in case we do get caught before it gets dark (and we usually do at least once.)  When we do get caught, especially if they are really little kids, Mom or Dad opens the door and gives them some candy. I have to confess, though, our favorite year doing this was when we handed out the candy my kids collected from the University homecoming parade a couple of weeks earlier. They were totally on board with it and were motivated to collect as much as possible. Talk about recycling at its finest!

Our kids can dress up

The kids can still dress up if they want to. The deal is, though, they have to use whatever we have at home. Sometimes they get creative and do some really fun stuff. Other years, they don’t really care. One year they did convince our whole family to dress up as superheroes, though. That was a lot of fun!

Our favorite ritual

In all the years we’ve been doing this, one silly little ritual has stuck. Regardless of what else we do that night, or how big my kids get, we still trick-or-treat…at home…in our hallway. We do a couple of rounds. Each person picks a door (we have just enough of them for all of us) and gets to hand out various items related to dinner. The first round is plates, cups, and utensils. The second round is various parts of our meal. We all take turns going door to door to collect our meal. Behind one door is a salad, another might have donuts or root beer floats, and mom or dad usually serve the pizza.

All’s well that ends well!

By far the best part of our celebration is that our sweeties are tucked snugly and safely in their beds long before the insanity outside dies down (it usually runs well past 10:00 p.m. in these parts). We also no longer have the intense fallout we used to have for two months prior and 3 weeks post-Halloween!

Three cheers for doing things our own way and in a way that works for our family!

Now it’s your turn!

Have you found anything that works particularly well in curbing the crazies and helping your kids get through the season? Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments! 

Halloween can be an awful time of year for traumatized kids...and everyone who lives with them, too. Check out what we\'ve done and learned over the years to keep it fun, keep it safe for everyone, and make it work for our special needs family! Click it and repin it! #serenitylinkscoaching #specialneeds #parentingtrauma #Halloween

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