All cultures worldwide celebrate different holidays and traditions. Some holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day are shared by many countries. Halloween is also celebrated in some form in other countries such as Mexico, Haiti, Ireland and Canada. Mexico as well as other Latin American countries celebrate the Day of the Dead, which honors deceased loved ones. In Haiti, Fete Gede, or Feast of the Dead, is a cultural celebration. Dressed in costumes, people dance in communion with their ancestors and walk to the local graveyards to gift food, drink, and gifts to their deceased loved ones. Fete Gede involves centuries-old African traditions that have been incorporated into Haitian culture. These celebrations usually revolve around the subject of death (typically a taboo subject for children) and may include dressing up in costumes, attending parties, touring haunted houses and trick-or-treating.
If your adopted child is not familiar with the traditional U.S. Halloween celebrations and traditions, it can be a scary time for them and adopted children may not understand the frights of Halloween and may view this with trepidation and anxiety. Children trick or treating, out in the dark, bags full of sugar, are also not a good combination and may trigger a trauma response in your child. Top this off with others out in the dark dressed as ghouls, monsters, ghosts and witches can be very scary experience for your child. Even having children arrive at your door, dressed in scary costumes can cause anxiety for your child.
Each child will interpret the events of Halloween differently, especially considering their age, level of trauma, what country they were adopted from and when they arrived home into their forever family. In fact, children not adopted may also interpret Halloween differently, depending on their own personal experiences, such as the recent death of a loved one or a cherished pet. An especially harrowing Halloween experience might have a lasting impact on them, well into adulthood. For many children the subject of death may first be brought to their attention during Halloween celebrations. Whether or not to celebrate Halloween with your child, will depend on your child and his/her past experiences and level of trauma.
Introducing your child early and slowly to the Halloween traditions is the key. Perhaps starting out with Fall celebrations such as visiting a pumpkin patch, carving a pumpkin, a hayride or purchasing a not so scary Halloween costume may be the key. If you notice your child becomes fearful, then avoiding traditional haunted houses or parties where children are wearing scary masks are likely a good idea. It is important to remember that adopted children or foster children come with a history of trauma and Halloween and trauma may not fit well together. Children who have experienced trauma may not handle anxiety well, they don’t handle transitions well and some are sensitive to sensory stimuli, that may be present during Halloween and may trigger your child. Keeping all this in mind when introducing your child to a new celebration such as Halloween is essential. Don’t push them too far, if you sense or see your child becoming anxious, then Halloween or a certain Halloween activity may not be a good idea for your child.
Explain whenever possible. Explain the traditions of Halloween that your family celebrates. Explain the holiday of Halloween and why we celebrate it. Explain that what your child sees isn’t real and is make believe, and what they experience will not hurt them. Being around other siblings or friends who are celebrating may ease any possible fear or tension. Explaining to your child that all is make believe will help, but you may need to repeat this frequently and at every occasion or event.
Make things less scary, using non-threatening costumes and party themes can be useful. Host a Halloween party and advise parents only to use fun or silly costumes and have children participating in fun and silly games that are not frightening.
Bottom line, whether you celebrate with your adopted child, is child specific and always taking into account their history and impact it may have. Always introduce slowly and watch for reactions from your child. Baby steps will be your best approach.
By: Sonja Brown