For kids, Halloween is mostly about dressing up like Iron-Man, a princess or a character from Paw Patrol and acquiring absurd amounts of candy. For parents, the prospect of dressing kids up, taking them around the neighborhood, and keeping them from eating absurd amounts of candy might seem a little daunting. Even so, it’s important to look at Halloween as a way to help children learn important socialization skills.

The Halloween rituals of approaching a house, engaging with unfamiliar people, and interacting according to social guidelines offer teachable moments and opportunities to praise appropriate behaviors.

According to Dr. Aimee Drescher, Director of Psychological Services at Unison Health, “Halloween empowers parents to model and promote healthy social skills and provide education and support to our children.”

Tips to Make Halloween a Treat for Everyone

Dr. Drescher suggests the following tips to help make Halloween a great experience that also provides real chances for personal growth:

Discuss expected and unexpected behavior prior to trick-or-treating. Talk with your child over dinner, while getting their costume on, or even several days prior about how you expect them to behave while trick-or-treating. Repeat this exercise as needed to reinforce expectations. Have your child repeat them back to you — this will help them to internalize these lessons.

Emphasize respectful interactions with adults and other kids. Remind your child to say “trick-or-treat,” “please,” and “thank you” at every house. If your child forgets, gently model for them in the moment by saying “please” and “thank you” on their behalf. Because children develop many of their social skills by watching, eventually they’ll pick up on the behavior themselves. To promote positive social interactions, encourage your child to give two compliments to others about their costumes while trick-or-treating.

Emphasize the importance of good social skills. If your child is naturally shy, he or she might be more likely to hide behind your coat than make eye contact and smile. But the more chances they have to interact, they less nervous they’ll feel. It might take time, but each step forward is a positive step.

Conversely, some children might be more extroverted, and they may be somewhat more aggressive. By reminding your child to wait their turn in line without complaining or pushing other children, you can also demonstrate the importance of patience and sharing. In addition, some children may need to be encouraged to give healthy personal space (i.e., don’t touch people’s costume without permission). Remind your child that if another child is bothering them to use friendly words to handle the situation or to get help from an adult.

Offer feedback to your child during the outing. Praise your child for the positive behaviors that you are seeing; for example, “I really like how you are using your manners with others tonight.” According to Dr. Drescher, parents and caregivers are the most important role models in a child’s life. A parent’s praise is a tremendous motivator, so don’t miss out a chance to recognize the behaviors you want to see happen again.

Unison Health: Dedicated to Children’s Behavioral Health

Sometimes children’s behavioral problems extend beyond trick-or-treat. When a child is experiencing behaviors that require extra help from a professional who understands a child’s needs, Unison Health offers a range of services for children. More information about this program is available on our Integrated Child and Family Services page or by calling 419-214-HOPE.