Halloween is THE kid holiday and if your kids are anything like mine, they do NOT want to miss out this year. The question for this year is “How do we have a SAFE Halloween, and still give the kids some semblance of normalcy and fun?”
Do we just say no to the crowds of people, knocking on doors and not knowing if others will be masked or careful? If the thought of trick or treating is giving you anxiety, and you don’t know what else to do, here are some ideas that might just lead to an ideal workaround. Who knows, it might even transform Halloween forever!
Oftentimes, in these sort of situations, parents do one of two things. Some parents insist on obedience from their children, so they get their needs met at the expense of the children. Other parents, wishing to spare their children any hurt and aggravation, give in and let their children get their way. Either way, someone is left feeling resentful of the other. It is this constant cycle of power struggles and the subsequent pent-up resentments that result that slowly begin to erode the parent/child relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a third option: Both parents and children can get their needs met. Deciding whether to Trick or Treat or not doesn’t have to be a power struggle. In fact, it is a perfect opportunity for respectful parenting and problem-solving - or No Lose Problem Solving as written in the book Parent Effectiveness Training suggests. Parent Effectiveness Training is a communication model based on the respect and needs of all individuals. Below is a step-by-step guide for how to problem solve Halloween, so there truly are no losers and everyone can get their needs met.
Step 1: Define the Problem/Identify Needs
Before you, as the grown-up, make any decisions, the first step is to ask kids what they like about Halloween. This will define their needs and give everyone a framework to problem solve from. Then, identify your own needs as the adult. The idea here is that there are many many solutions to needs, so if trick or treating doesn’t meet your needs this year, you can problem-solve with your children to find a solution that works for everyone while still meeting ALL needs.
Anytime there is a problem where parents feel like they have to impose their own will, it’s best to take a step back and ask if there is another solution. Is there a win/win that would work for everyone? Halloween and other celebrations are no exception. So when my own children started asking about Halloween I started a conversation, rather than jumping right into saying no. I asked them what the best part of Halloween was to them. Their answers were dressing up, getting candy, seeing their friends, and having fun. Great! Now what about me, as the parent? My concern, like many caregivers, is safety - or more specifically avoiding risk of Covid-19 exposure.
Once a parent is clear on their own needs, they can express them authentically using a non-blameful I-Message like, “I’m concerned trick or treating won’t be safe because we can’t control how each house hands out candy or how many kids are near us and that makes me concerned about Covid.”
Step 2: Brainstorming Solutions
Now that everyone is clear on what they want out of Halloween (safety, dressing up, CANDY, time with friends, and fun), we can move onto collaborative problem-solving. This is the chance to come up with any and all ideas to find a “No-Lose” solution where everyone is happy with the outcome because it meets everyone’s needs.
Start by asking an open-ended question to begin the brain-storming process. Some examples might be: “How can we make sure that you all have fun, get to dress up and get lots of candy and still make sure we are all safe and socially distanced? Do you have any ideas?” “Do you think we can make Halloween even better than it already is?” “What could we do to have a one of a kind Halloween?”
Kids are great at thinking outside of the box, so capitalize on this and let them go wild! Write down all the ideas they come up with, even if you have objections. The time for narrowing down ideas will come later, but for now, anything goes.
Solutions that kids think of themselves are much more likely to generate enthusiasm and excitement, so let them lead and enjoy hearing their ideas, even if you don’t agree with them for now. Writing down all the ideas they come up with lets them know you’re taking them seriously. You may notice that they start to get more excited as the ideas get better and better. Keep in mind that children under three may need a little prompting, but once they get going they are generally capable of joining the process.
Some of the ideas that came up in our house were:
- A neighborhood scavenger hunt with each family in teams and enlisting all families without kids for use of their yards.
- A Halloween Egg Hunt
- A Scary Haunted House Egg Hunt (notice how ideas build on each other!)
- “Booing” the neighbors
- A street Halloween parade
- A Halloween street parade after a scavenger hunt
- A street costume contest with prizes
- Trick or treating only to houses of known families (planned in advance)
- A House decorating contest with lots of candy given out as the prizes
Step 3: Evaluate Ideas
Once you have several ideas, eliminate the ones the kids like the least first. Then leave a question mark by the ideas that are in the “maybe pile”. Finally, ask which ideas they like best. Then revisit the question mark ideas to narrow down possibilities. Now it’s time to choose a solution everyone likes.
Step 4: Choose a Solution
A “best” solution will be different for every family, but before you decide completely it helps to test it out by asking the questions, “IS there any reason it might not work?” If no one can think of one, you have a winner! Our family decided on a spooky scavenger hunt with lots of candy for each clue. They also wanted to do a socially distanced Halloween parade so they could see their friends and their costumes a little better.
Step 5: Make a Plan
Once you have your idea set, enlist the kids to help execute the plan. Keep in mind the developmental appropriateness of the tasks required for the plan. In our case, we decided the grown-ups would write the scavenger hunt clues, but the kids would pick out the candy ahead of time. We decided it would be limited only to our street on the cul de sac and each family would be on a team. There would be a GIANT bag of candy for each team at each location with the team that returns with all clues first getting an extra bag of candy. The adults would send out a sign-up sheet for teams and for houses that want to be secret scavenger hunt locations. Adults would be in charge of ideas for scavenger hunt clues and the kids would take turns reading them out loud the day of Halloween. Each team would start at a different clue to make sure they follow distancing guidelines. We made sure to address all of the “needs” defined in the first two steps (candy, costumes, friends, safety).
Step 6: Check Results
As the plan starts coming together, check-in to make sure the plan is still working for everyone. One of the reasons problem-solving often fails is because this step is forgotten and we miss the fact that needs might have changed along the way. It can be as simple as saying something like “How is the plan for Halloween going? Is it still working for you?” Or “I can tell you are really excited about the Halloween plan, I see you have all the planning done already.” This invites discussion or possibilities for tweaking the plan if necessary.
Benefits of No Lose Problem Solving
Involving children in solutions to these BIG problems has many benefits. It gets them to think creatively. It empowers them to find solutions on their own, without getting stuck in a fixed mindset like “This is the worst Halloween ever.” It also builds trust and connection between grown-ups and children. The child learns that their adult(s) cares about their needs and their concerns will be heard. The child learns to take the needs of their grown-ups into consideration as well and a building block of empathy is put into place.
Collaborative problem solving also builds awareness. When I asked my own children what their favorite part of planning their “New Halloween” was, I was surprised to hear that they liked that they didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in crowds and losing each other or getting candy they don’t like. They were able to recreate their own Halloween and make it even better for themselves, and that is where the growth mindset comes in. The takeaway here was that you don’t have to do what you always did and that with a little creativity and resourcefulness you can imagine something new and may be an even better tradition that will last for years to come.
If you like the Scavenger Hunt idea here are a few adapted clues to get you started from Scavenger Hunt Fun.
A few houses up and on the lawn
Look for a graveyard from beyond
Behind a big grave you will find
The next clue to bend your mind.
Bats like to come out at night
But don't let them give you a fright
A bat hangs in the in a window somewhere
Your next clue is hidden there
A spider crawls upon its web
Up in a tree where it is spread
Entangled in a web of doom
Your next clue there must surely loom