Trick or Trauma:
A quick guide to keeping Halloween safe and fun for children who have experienced abuse & neglect.
If you’ve ever watched a scary movie, or been to a haunted house, you probably know that sometimes it’s fun to be scared. On Halloween, trick-or-treating turns your familiar neighborhood into a spooky walkthrough for just one evening of fun-loving frights.
But for some children, being in a state of fear is their normal. The monsters in the night live with them in their homes.
Nearly 700,000 children are abused annually in the U.S. 90% of the time the abuser is someone the child knows or trusts. While these children may appear fine on the surface, the damage inflicted on them is deep, altering their behaviors and ability to make sense of the world around them.
So, for one night where fear is used as a tool for fun, how do we as a society take on a trauma-informed perspective when celebrating this holiday? That’s all it is, really. It’s not a reinvention of the night or a censorship of fun. Behaving in a way that’s trauma-informed is just a way we can each learn to do better. An exercise in empathy that will go on to protect more children and foster stronger relationships with all of our peers.
Here are five easy tips you can take to make your trick-or-treating experience trauma-informed and safer for children:
1. Good lighting on your porch or indoors: For many children, PTSD from abuse is triggered at nighttime when they are alone in the dark with their thoughts and memories. Good lighting at your home will create increased visibility which can give a child a deeper sense of security when approaching an unknown space.
2. Make sure your pets are prepared for visitors: loud and aggressive noises are another thing that could potentially trigger a child who has experienced abuse. Your doorbell will be ringing pretty frequently on Halloween, so be sure your pet is prepared or removed from your entryway to avoid undue stress on your visitors (and your pet for that matter!)
3. Do not invite children inside your house: Children who have experienced trauma have a flawed foundation when it comes to building healthy relationships with adults. While you may be the nicest folks on the block, it’s important not to put a child in a compromising situation where they are forced into your home and potentially afraid to say they are uncomfortable. You could be contributing to their fear and further fracturing their trust of adults.
4. Try not to cover your face: If you are planning on dressing up as you hand candy out, try to avoid covering your entire face. At the very least take off any full-face mask when addressing children. Allowing them to see your face can help quell a fight-or-flight response if they’re able to assess your expression.
5. Don’t take a lack of “manners” too personally: While you’re not crazy to wish that each child greets and thanks you after you give them candy, it’s important not to take it too harshly when a child simply strolls off or makes sparse eye contact. Again, so many children with adverse childhood experiences have limited positive interactions with adults. This often results in some underdeveloped social skills. Just have patience, and try not to villainize all children for a lack of manners. Instead, try to smile and empathize with each child. Be a part of a teaching moment and create a positive experience for a child whose life hasn’t always been filled with the chance to practice these social niceties.