Just Be Nice this Halloween

I love halloween. But since becoming a parent, that love is overlaid by a strong layer of worry and trepidation about trick or treating.

Graphic from PAVE Washington

I’m not worried about needles in candy, sugar highs, or that the holiday is somehow corrupting my children. I’m worried about whether or not we’ve planned ahead well enough to walk the delicate balance of enjoying the night without tipping over into misery for my autistic child.

That’s where those memes about how to be kind to ALL children come in, and you can help this year by understanding that these suggestions make the difference between a positive experience and a lousy one

Here is one example of these memes from PAVE WA:

The child who is grabbing more than one piece of candy may have poor fine motor skills
The one who takes forever to pick out one piece of candy may have motor planning issues.
The one who does not say trick or treat or thank you may be non-verbal.
The one who looks disappointed. . .might have an allergy [or diabetes].
The one not wearing a costume at all might have a sensory issue (SPD) or autism.
Be nice. Be Patient. Enjoy the night!

We fit a couple of those categories in this house.

The one not wearing any costume at all. . .

Picture from Pixabay

My autistic child has sensory issues (which is a nice way of saying that sounds and lights most people wouldn’t even notice cause him pain). So we plan ahead. One Halloween I’d made him the costume he wanted, with sensory friendly modifications. Unfortunately, the added stimulus of Halloween made wearing it impossible. He was determined to try: he got dressed, and got halfway down the front path before he stopped suddenly. He took off his costume while sobbing because he wanted to go out the gate and enjoy what the other kids were doing, but couldn’t because it was so overwhelming. He wanted to trick or treat. He couldn’t pay the price of admission: wearing the costume.

We had a back up costume ready, which was even more sensory friendly. But, by that point his filters were overflowing and the only thing that didn’t hurt to wear was a big fluffy fleecy blanket with a galaxy printed on it. 

So he made a decision: wrapped up in the blanket, he grabbed his trick or treat bag and we headed back out.  He was comfortable and he was able to trick-or-treat like all the other kids for a while. I was so proud of my child because he had found his own solution when others didn’t work. He understood his own body well enough to know the limits and to figure how to pay the price of admission to Halloween without sacrificing himself.

He did two  blocks of trick or treating and only said the words “trick or treat” aloud for about half of them. But he loved it and was super excited to have overcome a hurdle on his own terms and found a way to have a great time.

And yet, the strangers whose doorsteps he went to that night had no idea of the struggle he’d been through just to get there. Most, gave him the candy anyway, with a smile and sometimes a raised eyebrow. Some commented on his lack of a costume. One refused to give him candy at all until he said the words “trick or treat” (we left). I imagine that if we had gone more than 2 blocks we would have run into that problem more. But because we never made it past the 2 blocks of our house most people had seen us around and understood.

Since that year, we have a minimum of 4 back up plans for trick or treating. Some years we are fine at plan 1, but other years we end up all the way to plan 5. Because the back ups are there, it’s always a success.

The One Who Takes Forever . . .

Once when while trick or treating, my child hesitated 5 seconds, and the person holding the bowl began to count down from 5–To give this perspective, imagine that you are trying to do something impossible (choose the red or blue wire before the bomb explodes, take a test), and someone leans over you and starts counting.  Does that help you concentrate? I’m going to guess no.

But that is EXACTLY what she was doing to this kid. Choosing candy requires executive functioning and coordination skills that take some kids a little longer to complete than others. And standing over them reminding them that time was passing, does not help. It’s shitty and stressful, and makes it even harder to make a choice and grab it.

The One Who Doesn’t Say Anything. . .

Kids are shy, non-verbal, selectively-verbal, or just have full filters. On that night when he trick or treated wrapped in a blanket, my son went silent long before he was ready to give up. He wanted to be there. He was comfortable and proud to be there. He appreciated the candy and enjoyed the experience, but speaking was too hard on top of all the other things he’d been through that evening. If Halloween required speaking, he could not have gone to the last 10 or so houses.

Because some people are nice, he was able to enjoy that part of the holiday too. I know it seems rude that kids aren’t all saying thank you or saying “trick or treat,” but the purpose of this event isn’t to teach manners, and you don’t know what is going on with that kid.

The One Who is Too Old. . .

Let teens be kids if they want to on Halloween

As somebody who works regularly with 12 and 13 year olds, I 100% promise you they are still kids in a ton of ways (including at Halloween) and it is important for them to still be a part of things like trick or treating if they choose to be. It’s cruel to stick them in the middle, where they cannot participate in “kid” things or in “adult” things. What is developmentally appropriate for a high school student is not developmentally appropriate for a 12 or 13 year old. We do not judge adults love Disneyland or cartoons but we judge the hell out of teens who just want to trick or treat.

In the end, it’s Halloween. Trick-or-treating is not the time to treat teach manners, or engage in extensive social commentary about your trick or treaters. It’s unkind and not much fun to be grumpy and judgmental. Instead, it’s time to have fun, pass out candy, and make it a great experience for ALL the trick or treaters who hit your doorstep.


Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

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One Comment

  1. The trick or treaters who came to my house were also mostly so kind to my 3.5 who ran out of cope for trick or treating and came home desperate to help me with candy. She slowly gave each kid 2 treats, and they tolerated her counting with smiles (again, mostly). Two older kids (young teens) even took off their masks so she wouldn’t be scared, which was so considerate!

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