Halloween is a really exciting holiday for kids and adults alike. It can also be a really difficult time for many children due to allergies, dietary restrictions, special needs, or developmental differences.
Two moms are here to share their stories in an effort to help everyone have a safe, accepting, and inclusive Halloween. It’s everyone’s Halloween, and we should do our best to help make it a wonderful experience for all.
My three-year-old son has a number of life-threatening food allergies. His allergies extend beyond the top eight most common things to include sunflower and pea. This means that even those candies marked as allergy-friendly likely don’t work for him. For us, trick-or-treating can be very difficult to navigate. Last year, at two-years-old, he surprised us by toddling along a full street of houses in my parent’s neighborhood. We hovered over him at most houses, checking the candy offering, and taking the treat out of the bowl for him if we were uneasy about him coming in contact with the wrapper. At the end of the evening, we traded away his entire bucket for a few safe treats. We spoke a lot during the evening about how we didn’t take any treats from our bucket and eat them. By some miracle, his toddler self obliged to follow our rules with no meltdowns.
Fast forward to this year and our more independent 3-year-old will surely not be as agreeable and patient with us screening all candy bowls first. Our solution is a costume that includes gloves. I’m also hopeful that we may see far more teal pumpkins this year so we won’t have to worry about his candy selection at all. Do you know what I’m talking about?
The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes safety, inclusion and respect of individuals managing food allergies. This worldwide movement offers an alternative for kids with food allergies, as well as other children for whom candy is not an option. It keeps Halloween a fun, positive experience for all!
Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project is SO EASY. First, display a teal pumpkin at your house (like this, this, or this) or download a free sign to put on your door. Second, make sure to have some non-food treats. The possibilities are endless! Some of my favorite ideas are glow sticks (can help keep everyone safe and visible during Halloween night,) bubbles, pencils, and stickers. You may also offer candy as well, just make sure to keep it in a separate bowl.
For my family and the 15 million other Americans with food allergies, this small step goes a long way towards a fun and inclusive Halloween. It can help so many others too. Perhaps the little one at your door with a look of disappointment about the candy bowl might not be allowed to have sugar for their family’s own personal reasons.
My son was diagnosed with autism at age three. I did not see his developmental delays before he was diagnosed because I was looking at his development from the lens of a premature baby and he was my firstborn. I recall one time, before my son was diagnosed, we were grocery shopping and my son was getting restless. I knew that the grocery store handed out free cookies to kids so I went over the bakery counter and asked for a cookie. I figured the free cookie could buy me a little extra time to finish up my shopping and that my son would enjoy the treat, a win/win for all. I went over to the counter and asked for the cookie and a lady came over and handed a cookie to my son. After she gave the cookie, she said,
Now, what do you say?
My son looked at her blankly. It wasn’t that he was being rude or unthankful, but at the time he was nonverbal. He didn’t have the ability to say thank you. Once the grocery store worker didn’t get the response she wanted, she looked at me and said,
Kids these days are so rude. I gave your son a free cookie, the least he could do is say thank you.
I wish I was strong enough to reply back to her in an educated and kind way, but all I could do was feel the tears flood into my eyes, so instead of crying and looking like a crazy person, I walked away. I walked away and missed an opportunity to advocate for my son and for others like him.
While the cookie experience is five years behind us (honestly, it still stings), I often feel similar interactions occur each year around Halloween and during trick-or-treating. When people are being generous with time and resources by handing out Halloween candy to kids, it is easy to attach expectations to the candy. This takes away from the feelings of an inclusive Halloween. Let me explain…
Before my parenting days, I used to hand out Halloween candy to our neighborhood children and you bet that I had expectations tied to those fun-sized Snickers bars.
The expectations I had were….
All trick-or-treaters should be dressed in a Halloween costume
Trick-or-treaters should be between the ages of 2 and 13
Trick-or-treaters should know to pick only one piece of candy
Trick-or-treaters should say thank you
Trick-or-treaters should be happy with whatever they receive.
Now that I am a parent, most of my pre-parenting ideals have changed (for example, that blanket statement I made stating that my kids would never watch TV… yeah…) My philosophy around trick-or-treating and Snickers expectations has also greatly changed.
I know that sometimes children won’t dress in their costumes because of sensory issues. I know that some children can’t motor plan picking out one piece of candy. I know that some kids will be disappointed with their Snickers because they can’t eat it due to a food allergy or other dietary concern. And the one that hits the hardest with me is that some children won’t say thank you because they are nonverbal.
As a special needs mom, I would encourage you to be patient and kind if you see a child who doesn’t meet these expectations. Ultimately, when giving Halloween candy it is a gift to the child with no strings attached.
It’s truly impossible to know everyone’s story. For those with invisible disabilities, trick-or-treating can be filled with a lot of tricks that make the holiday really hard to navigate. Be accepting. Be nice. Be patient. Be kind. Let’s make this everyone’s inclusive Halloween and a day we can all equally enjoy!