Trick-or-treat, smell my feet—wait, what? In the year 2020, this children's nursery rhyme doesn't quite age well. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still in full effect, it can be hard to safely go out with the family and trick-or-treat on Halloween—which means as a parent or caregiver, you may have to tell your kids that they won't be celebrating Halloween outdoors this year. But how exactly do you begin to tell your kids this scary news?
According to Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, you should discuss this decision with them as soon as you make it. "It is important to give kids a chance to take it in and process it. Parents often don’t want to deal with the disappointment, frustration, or emotional response to a negative experience, and so they wait until the last minute to tell their kids," he tells HelloGiggles. "That may make it easier on the parents, but it makes it harder for the child to adapt to the decision."
And with children already dealing with new adjustments due to the pandemic (i.e. virtual school and not being able to see friends), it's imperative to not disregard their feelings— especially around something they may have been looking forward to all year. "Because spikes in case numbers, guidelines, and decisions around how to best navigate trick-or-treating can change, just be [certain] about your decision not to trick-or-treat before you discuss with your child," Dr. Klapow adds.
Of course, it isn't easy to be the bearer of bad news—but with coronavirus cases in America reaching 47,049 per day within the past week alone, whether or not to celebrate Halloween in the traditional sense is certainly something to be considered. Here's exactly how you can discuss this with your children.
Anchor the decision to the pandemic.
Even though your children might already be aware of how dangerous the coronavirus is, it's important to address from the start that this is why it's not safe to go trick-or-treating right now. "Keep it kind and straight to the point. There is one reason you are not going and that is safety—they need to understand that," Dr. Klapow says.
Dr. Klapow explains that one of the ways you can help children understand is by giving them specific examples of why it's dangerous to go trick-or-treating right now. "The more specific you can be, the less likely they are to think you are doing this because they are bad or you simply don’t want them to go." You can say that trick-or-treating brings them into too close contact with neighbors or that touching candy that has been touched by multiple people can be too dangerous right now.
Dr. Suzan Song, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Division of Child/Adolescent and Family Psychiatry at George Washington University, and member of the Physician Moms Group, adds that, whatever you do, don't just say "because I said so." This phrasing will only make children upset or confused because it just shuts down the conversation, which prevents healthy communication. Rather, you can place the focus of your reason onto other people by saying, "We care about others, so we don’t want to get people sick. And we don’t want to get sick ourselves, either.”
Lead the conversation with compassion and empathy.
It's not just about what you say but how you say it. "You need to sound confident and feel comfortable with the decision you’ve made. Additionally, you need to lead the conversation with compassion. If kids sense any ambivalence, they will leverage that to get you to change your mind," Dr. Song says.
This is because, according to Dr. Song, children's frontal lobe—the rational, logical part of the brain—is not fully developed for them to emotionally understand your reasoning. "We need to start most of our conversations, especially with hard ones like this, with empathy," she explains. "So we say, ‘Sorry, honey, I know you love Halloween. I do, too, and it’s really sad we won’t be able to go trick-or-treating this year.’"
Validate their feelings if they become upset.
However old your children may be, it's completely normal for them to feel upset about this news—frankly, as adults, it's upsetting for us, too. So shaming them or getting upset because they're expressing themselves is not the route to take. Instead, Dr. Song says you want to acknowledge and validate their feelings of sadness, disappointment, or anger to help them feel heard.
For instance, Dr. Song suggests you say, "You know what, it’s okay to be super angry. But it’s not okay to hit your sister or smash your truck." This will show them that you're validating their feelings but also allowing them to recognize where the limits are—especially when it concerns others' physical or mental well-being.
Provide alternative ways to celebrate.
Just because trick-or-treating might be a no-go this year doesn't mean that you and your family can't still celebrate the holiday. You and your family can do an at-home scavenger hunt, turn your home into a haunted house, or even have a Halloween movie night. "This helps the kids feel agency because they can say, ‘Well, alright, it’s not my choice that I can’t go trick-or-treating, but at least I can choose these one or two things.’”
For more ideas on how to celebrate Halloween safely, read on here.