Taming the Halloween Triggers

by | Parenting, Holidays and Celebrations

Figuring out how to safely navigate the Halloween season with our traumatized kids has not been an easy task at our house. In fact, it took several years before we actually got it right. Our first step was figuring out why they always went bonkers around Halloween. Once we figured that out, we had to take a firm stand and do things our way. That’s when we started “Skipping Halloween“. In the midst of all of that, we also had a major epiphany. Using one of the only forms of communication they really could, our kids let us know why costumes are so triggering for them. 

Skipping Halloween was only part of the solution

Once we figured out the connection between Halloween and trauma triggers, we still had our work cut out for us. “Skipping Halloween” (as outlined in a previous blog post) was only part of the solution. Avoiding the triggers is a huge part of survival for a person who struggles with complex traumatic stress. Unfortunately, when it comes to Halloween those triggers are literally everywhere for two solid months and completely avoiding them isn’t possible.

Diffusing the triggers

In order to take the power out of them, we had to hit them head-on and diffuse them. In an act I attribute equally to inspiration and desperation, we did something we had previous completely avoided in previous years. Without any warning to them, I purposely took my terrified kids down the Halloween aisle…and I did it more than once! In fact, we spent the better part of the month of October purposely visiting the Halloween section of every store we went to.

That sounds like a crazy thing for people who don’t like Halloween to do, right? For us, it was a matter of survival. We had to take the power out of the triggers. Those darn triggers had such a stranglehold on my kids that they would freak out or shut down every single time we drove or walked past a Halloween decoration…or every time they had an assignment at school with a Halloween themed image on it…or any time they saw someone in a costume.

We had to help the kids understand that even though all that stuff might look gross or scary, it wasn’t real. It is all just a bunch of plastic, rubber, and fabric. The only way for them to learn that was to get close enough to them to touch them and feel them.

It wasn’t easy!

As you might imagine, they were VERY hesitant at first. The first time we did it was fairly early in the season when the isles were still well-stocked. It was also later in the evening when the store was less crowded.

At first, we just walked down the aisle with them sticking to me like glue. They didn’t look at anything. Nor did they touch anything.

Safety First…Always!

We talked all about how we were all still safe, even though there was yucky stuff around us. This was just an aisle in the store we come to all the time. We also talked about being safe once we made it to the other side. And, we also worked a lot on coping tools for dealing with big feelings and knowing we could get through this.

Take it slow!

After a few trips through the Halloween section, we started purposely looking at the stuff on the rows. Then we started touching it. We spent quite a bit of time looking at gross costumes and accessories and saying out loud “You’re not real. You’re just ugly and your mother dresses you funny!”

We practiced touching stuff and thumping it together to make sure it was just a creepy looking thing that was made of plastic or fabric. We also examined a lot of them and discovered those scary red eyes were just light bulbs and the creepy sounds were coming out of a speaker and run by batteries.

The masks were hard

The work we did with masks was tough. Once they could touch them without freaking out, I had them start putting them on. See? It’s just a bunch of rubber and it doesn’t change who you are.

Once mom put the same mask on, though, it became scary again. It took quite a bit of doing to help them understand that mom doesn’t change who she is just because she’s wearing a mask. Even if the mask was gross or scary or ugly, mom was still mom and the mask was just pretend.

The weapons were harder!

By far the hardest part about what we did was having the kids practice holding those disgusting fake bloody machetes and double blade axes in their own hands. Even though they weren’t real (and we made sure they knew it), these items hit some of their biggest fears and deepest shame.

We used humor and logic to get through much of the other stuff. There was nothing funny about these items, though. Nor was there anything funny about the many threats they had made over the years about chopping people up or otherwise violently hurting them. Yup! You betcha! We talked about all of those things right then and there.

Making it work

We kept our Halloween section visits short and spontaneous and simply incorporated them into our regular shopping trips as we had the opportunity. We never made special trips to the store just to do this (at least not that the kids know about anyway!) Once we started down this road and realized it was working, I do confess to “needing to run to the store for a few things” and of course, I needed the kids to come with me. I also looked for opportunities to visit the Halloween aisles at EVERY store we went in from the day we started it until after the big day and everything was on clearance.

As previously mentioned, we had the best success early in the season and going to the stores during times when we knew those isles would be less crowded. Yes, we got a few weird looks from other people. Oh well! It comes with the territory. Yes, more than one person was warned that my kids might get a little agitated being in this isle…and yes, ever so gratefully, more than one person saw what we were doing and chose to keep their kids away from mine and walk away without saying anything. I still send a big thank you to those people!

It only took once!

We only had to go through all of that one year. That was enough to permanently diffuse the triggers.  Though we still keep almost everything Halloween at a distance by choice, it no longer holds the same power over them that it once did. Thankfully, this also means the crazy behaviors we once endured during the entire Halloween season have also very significantly decreased.

My kids still don’t like Halloween, and quite frankly, neither do I. They still tell me every year how much they don’t like it and they don’t understand why other people do. They have, however, come to accept that Halloween isn’t going away and other people can choose to celebrate it if they want to, even if we choose not to.

And that, my friend, is what healing looks like!

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