Diffusing Halloween Triggers
Once we figured out what was really going on and driving all the crazy behaviors for our kids during the Halloween season, we still had our work cut out for us. Avoiding the triggers is a huge part of survival. Unfortunately, when those triggers are literally everywhere for two solid months, avoiding them isn’t always possible. We had to diffuse them.
In an act I attribute equally to inspiration and desperation, we did something we had previous completely avoided in previous years. A couple years after we began “Skipping Halloween”, we spent the better part of the month of October purposely visiting the Halloween section of every store we went to. 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 they walked past a Halloween decoration. 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. As you might imagine, they were VERY hesitant at first. We started out by just walking down the isle with them sticking to me like glue. We talked about being safe while we were in there and also once we made it to the other side. We also worked a lot on coping tools for dealing with big feelings and keeping those triggers at bay.
Pretty soon we started purposely looking at the stuff on the rows and 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 really 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 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.
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…and nor was there anything funny about the threats they had made about chopping people up or otherwise violently hurting them.
We kept our visits short and spontaneous and 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 that the kids know of anyways.) Once we started down that road, I do confess to “needing to run to the store for a few things and I need you to come with me” more frequently than usual and looking for opportunities at every store we were in.
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 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 walk away without saying anything. I still send a big thank you to those people!
We only had to go through all of that one year. My kids still don’t like Halloween and all that comes with it (and neither do I.) Even this year they have expressed how much they don’t like it and 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 even if we don’t. As long as those triggers are kept at a distance, they no longer hold the same power over them they once did. Thankfully, it also means the crazy behaviors we once had during the entire Halloween season have also very significantly decreased.