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Halloween With an ADHD Child
The days are shorter now. The leaves are drifting downwards from the trees, and the orange and brown colors of fall are replacing the greens of summer. With the season in full swing, kids are past the initial transition back to school. They are happily looking forward to the next major event. The winter holidays are too far away, and Thanksgiving is an afterthought. In October, kids have one thing in mind: Halloween.
For children, Halloween is the perfect day of the year. They can dress up, be extra silly, and then they’re rewarded for it with mountains of candy. As a parent, Halloween puts you in a challenging situation, and if your child has ADHD, your state is beyond challenging.
To you, the costumes, candy, and trick-or-treating trigger thoughts of distractibility, hyperactivity, and defiance. This day of the year may be met with anticipation from your children, but you meet it with dread.
This year can be different, though. Rather than crossing your fingers in hopes that things will be different, take control of the Halloween process. By taking preventative measures to manage the costumes, the trick-or-treating, and the candy consumption, you can ensure that this year is better than last. This way, Halloween can be more fun for everyone.
Do you want to make Halloween something worth celebrating? Here’s how:
When picking a costume, take your child’s ADHD symptoms into account. Is your child a fidgeter? Is he someone who will be distracted by an item hanging from his side or blocking his field of vision? Or is he more impulsive and will use aspects of the costume in undesirable ways? Taking a quick assessment of your child’s tendencies will leave you in a better position to adjust the costume choices.
Kids that are more distractible should be pointed towards costume choices without many accessories or loose or flowing pieces. For them, stick to simplicity. Be realistic while helping them choose something that they will be comfortable in for hours so that half of their costume isn’t missing by the end of school or their trick-or-treat session.
If impulsivity is more of a struggle, avoid costumes that have parts or pieces that could be used inappropriately. A ninja costume is fine, but the throwing stars or a pair of nunchucks might be better off left at home.
The word to remember here is compromise. By clearly and concretely discussing your expectations early, your child will be less surprised by your imposed limitations. Be sure to hear out his point of view to consider his opinion while expressing your concerns.
Attempt some practice sessions to test the responsibility of your child to see if they can manage these situations with their ADHD symptoms. No one wins if your child is set up to fail if you are overly permissive.
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Trouble with Trick-or-Treating
Depending on your child’s age and level of symptoms, the act of trick-or-treating can be quite problematic. To begin this process, look at the way the situation unfolded last year. What were your child’s strengths? What were the areas that could use improvement? Take this information as realistic data to base this year’s plan on.
If your child was carelessly running across the street to get to the next house, consider switching venues to a cul-de-sac or neighborhood with less traffic. If your frustrations grew from your child’s greed, instruct your child to thank each candy-giver slowly before moving on to the next house.
Some parents find their child tries to move through as many houses as possible before the end of trick-or-treat so they can amass the most candy. If this leads to your child leaving you, establish a specific maximum number of houses that can be visited rather than an unlimited free for all. This will shift the attention to quality instead of quantity.
If your child is old enough to trick-or-treat with increased independence, create guidelines regarding where, who with, and for how long. Discuss check-ins to ensure that these parameters are being followed.
Regardless of age, some children will not be able to safely handle the act of trick-or-treating because their ADHD symptoms are too pervasive. This does not mean that they must miss out on the Halloween experience, though. Find new ways to make the act of giving out candy at home their trick-or-treat. Decorate the house together to allow your child to have increased control over their environment. Building an exchange policy where your child gains a treat for each one given to another child can add an incentive to the scenario.
Trick-or-treating has concluded, and you find your living room awash in candy six inches deep. This is not the time to establish your expectations regarding what can and cannot be eaten.
Since many children with ADHD have strong reactions to increased levels of sugar in foods and drink, some restrictions on candy consumption is a must, and it must be discussed before the accumulation begins.
Engage your child in a discussion about the risks of eating too much candy, and the repercussions of breaking household rules relating to increased hyperactivity. Ask them how much candy they should be able to eat that night to continue building the same compromise skills used during the costume picking. In most cases, their first offer will be unrealistically high, but they might surprise you with their rationality. In either case, this gives you a point to begin the discussion.
Continue the friendly debate until an agreeable amount is found. Along the way, discuss what to do with the excess of candy. Finding ways to donate the extra can instill selflessness in your child. You could also create an exchange program with your child where you trade their extra candy for a trip to the movies or a new toy from the store. This way the sugar-related risks can be reduced or eliminated.
It is true that Halloween can be a harrowing night for parents of a child with ADHD. Because of the potential problems, taking a preventative stance early in October will lead to reduced risks and better outcomes.
Tackle the major issues related to costumes, trick-or-treating and candy consumption to establish your expectations early and often while using compromise.
If done well, you can be a Halloween hero.