Kris’ Corner – Halloween with Kids in Care

October 14, 2022

I might be going out on a limb (ok, not really) and surmise that most of us could agree that Halloween is based on a love of being scared…at least to some level. Now I must admit that I personally HATE being scared. I hate it. I hate jump scares, I hate blatant, terrifying things you can see. I despise ALL.OF.IT.

So in my mind, at least, this seems like a recipe for disaster when you mix it with a child in foster care. A child in care has probably/potentially already experienced terrifying, horrific, scary events that more than likely have left them somewhat fearful. Whether they acknowledge the fear or not, their bodies, at least, remember the traumatic event or events.

That said, let’s pull back for a moment and think about what happens when you get scared. Your heart races, your breathing gets really shallow, you probably sweat. You might feel an overwhelming sense of dread or panic.

And you might go into a fear response: fight, fight, or freeze; if you live with a child or children from hard places, this response probably will not come as a surprise to you.

So as a parent who has had kids with trauma, living in her the home (and is still living with one in the home) I see this fear response. And not just around Halloween.

And it’s not because they’re watching a movie for their personal enjoyment, or going through a haunted house. It’s because their body has been triggered by something! And as the foster parent, you might not even be aware of what it is. The child might not even be able to tell you, especially if it is a felt memory, embedded deep in the brain.

This is my point in all this: how great of a mix is Halloween with kids in care? To me, it seems like a no-brainer, at least from an emotional response aspect. And also if you’ve not had time to really get to know a child (like in a new placement) and have no clue what’s gone on and/or going on in their mind, body and heart.

The other thing I personally have to think about is the exorbitant amount of candy received, and often consumed, by a child on and around Halloween night.

And if you go to multiple trunk or treat activities in the days leading up to it, plus the “Harvest Party” (which is the often-used name for Halloween Party at schools these days), the amount of candy/sugar is completely over the top.

I mean have you been in an elementary school the day after Halloween? It is brutal.

Now, this may not be true for every child, but the day after Halloween is often difficult for a couple reasons: kids were up later than usual the night before, they’ve consumed more sugar than anyone ever should, and they are literally bouncing off the ceiling. For a child whose internal wiring may already have a sensitivity to sugar, as my son specifically does, Halloween candy does nothing good for him. Zero benefit. I mean, not to be on a soapbox but it’s honestly not good for any of us…but I digress.

Point being: it requires that I have to be the bad guy, especially when other kids his age are able to consume way more than him. I know it’s for his own good, but at is age, and stage, and maturity…he doesn’t fully get that right now. And honestly, he doesn’t care. He just wants candy…and it’s super-fun policing that, let me just say.

To be clear, my objective in this post is not to say that foster parents should not do Halloween. My point is that maybe we should attempt to keep it on the lighter side, if it all possible? Maybe watching a lighthearted “scary“ movie like the old-school Charlie Brown Halloween, or something of that sort. Nothing that’s going to be too dark or triggering. Nothing to really get the palm sweaty or the heart racing.

Also, maybe only trick-or-treat at a few houses and allow the child to go to the store and pick a special snack, it’s just for them…and preferably lower in sugar than gobs of candy would be. Do some sort of Halloween or fall-themed craft. And of course, still let them dress up…let them wear that costume out, because prices one costumes are insane!

There are lots of ways you can still have fun and enjoy the holiday, and it does not always have to be overly-directed at triggering a fear response.

Hope my little bit of food for thought helps you navigate a holiday that could end up as an intense one.