Happy Healthy Halloween!

halloweenAs Halloween season approaches you see fun, festive decorations, images of children dressing up, and a host of scary movies and ads. A lot of children, especially those who are older than preschool-age, spend time choosing their costumes and looking forward to all the yummy candies and other treats they will get. Halloween is fun, and it’s also a good opportunity for us to appreciate children’s development and overall health. Bring your healthy snack to Tasty Tuesday and share your plans for Halloween!

  1. Can Halloween be too scary for kids?

Many children love Halloween right from the start. But some children, especially younger children, can develop fears around Halloween. Children who are preschool age or younger may have a hard time differentiating fantasy from reality. Seeing spooky posters, TV ads, and older kids/adults telling stories can fuel a young child’s imagination and may escalate already existing fears, such as monsters lurking under the bed. This doesn’t mean that you should not participate in Halloween, nor that you should try to block all Halloween-related scary things, which would not be very realistic or even healthy. Instead, you can actually use Halloween to teach your child what’s pretend, what’s real and how to manage fear. Even if your child is fine with Halloween, you still can use this opportunity to talk about any other anxieties.  During Halloween children might discover that sometimes things that are a little bit scary can also be fun; and that those spooky creatures they see are actually “real people” who are dressed up. In order to communicate this message, try to avoid wearing masks or anything to cover faces; and act normally, instead of pretending to be a scary monster. Show pictures of children smiling and enjoying Halloween, and share your own fun Halloween memories. Children can pick their own costumes – or they can even make one – so that they are part of this “pretend” dress up fun. Follow your child’s lead and don’t over-push what’s typically done for Halloween. Children enjoy Halloween in different ways at each developmental stage.

  1. Trick-or-treat! Time to practice social boundaries.  

Going trick-or-treating is a good way to practice positive social behaviors and manners. For quiet and shy children, dressing up in a costume may give them the courage to talk to a new person because their costume allows them to be someone else. For children who can be overly social and not see a lot of boundaries, this is also a good time to practice how to properly visit other people’s houses without being too invasive and how to nicely ask for things (even if what they are saying is “trick-or-treat!” instead of “please”) while having fun and being friendly.

  1. What to do with all the candy?

I wouldn’t say that candy is particularly healthful, but I also wouldn’t suggest that you take all the candy away from your kids. Yes, health is important, but candy is part of the fun of Halloween! So instead of banning candy, use this opportunity to teach children about eating in moderation. Keep about 10 candies that your child really likes, and if your child is old enough, this is a good time to have a conversation about how much candy is reasonable to keep based on dental health and nutrition.

Halloween is also a good time to learn about giving back. There are many dentists who participate in Buyback Programs for leftover Halloween candies.  Those candies will most likely be donated to US military members in hostile regions through organizations like Operation Gratitude. If you can’t find suitable candy exchange places near you, you can do it at home by trading books or small toys for candies.

You can find places to donate candy through:

Halloween Candy Buy Back Program: http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/index.html

Kool Smile Operation Troop Treats Program: http://www.mykoolsmiles.com/trooptreats

On October 31st, we will be celebrating Halloween all day long at Boston Children’s Museum, and we are open until 9 pm on that night (Target $1 Friday Night after 5 pm).  Come join us, and have a wonderful Halloween!

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