Even before green leaves turned red and yellow, even before the evening temperatures dropped below the 60s, and even before the grocery stores stacked giant bags of miniature chocolate bars sky high, parents began talking about Halloween 2020. What would it look like? Could kids go trick or treating? How about the beloved school parties and parades?
Several communities have already announced the cancellation of Halloween events amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some cities have announced they are not “sponsoring” trick-or-treat events but are leaving it up to individual neighborhoods to decide whether to proceed as usual.
The Ohio Department of Health issued a statement saying decisions on whether to participate in Halloween festivities “should be made by local communities, individuals and parents/guardians, and those celebrating should follow current state public health orders.”
And given the concerns about 6 feet of social distancing, it is no surprise that we’ve already seen viral photos on social media from people trying to figure out a safe “new, normal” for kids out trick or treating. One particularly well-circulated photo shows a long plastic tube, festively-decorated in orange, attached to the downward slope of a front porch rail so the homeowner can slide candy directly into a child’s bucket from a safe distance.
Even if neighborhoods move forward and allow trick or treating, parents will have to make final decisions on if they feel safe participating given such factors as their own health and the current level of virus in their area.
Consider the risk
As with decisions regarding return-to-school and sports, think of Halloween activities on a risk scale. Higher risk activities would include traditionally-crowded activities like visiting a haunted house or sitting closely with strangers on a hayride. Walking through a packed corn maze is risky but it could be safer if tickets are limited, entry is timed, and masks are required.
On the low-risk end of the spectrum, as the evenings get shorter and cooler, you can still celebrate the spooky season by snuggling with your kids on the couch to read scary stories and watch scary movies together.
“If you are not sure about trick or treating or your neighborhood has opted out, this may be the year to initiate some new fall and Halloween traditions,” said Heather Trnka, injury prevention coalition supervisor at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Do something you’ve never done before – build a scarecrow in the front yard, make up scary stories in the dark around your own backyard fire pit -with adult supervision, of course – make caramel apples or join the local fall hiking spree.”
It’s easy to think of this Halloween as another rite of your kids’ childhood getting robbed by COVID-19, but try to focus on the positives and all things you can still do. You can still decorate your house inside and out, you can still do Halloween crafts, and you can still take a family trip to the pumpkin patch and carve jack-o-lanterns.
Costumes, dressing up play important developmental role
For many children, the truly best thing about Halloween – even better than collecting mounds of candy – is dressing up in a costume.
“It is unfortunate if Halloween passes this year without all of the treats that we associate with it, but for many children [and adults, too, for that matter] part of the fun of Halloween is dressing up in a costume,” said Dr. Diane Langkamp, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Akron Children’s. “Dressing up is one form of imaginative, pretend play, and is most significant from 3 to 4 years old into the early school years. Through pretend play, children transform themselves from real into make-believe.”
Dr. Langkamp says imaginative play helps children see the world through a different set of eyes, perhaps someone they admire (a doctor, football player, fireman) and, thus, helps them to understand that adult’s role.
“Putting on a costume allows one to take on a different role – and try it out for a while with the assurance of knowing that the role is short-lived and one can return to the security of reverting to his/her own familiar self and role,” she said.
And, what if your child is drawn to the rack of costumes featuring witches, ghouls and vampires?
“Dressing up in a scary costume may help children to deal with some of their own fears and anxieties,” said Dr. Langkamp. “To see the fear on the faces of others when they are greeted by a ghost or monster … this may help them to process their fears—and thus to deal with them and overcome them.”
Trick or Treating
In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said she believes trick or treating can be done safely with masks and social distancing.
Individually-wrapped candy can be placed on the porch – or better yet – spread them out on a card table. Neighbors can wave to each other from a distance.
To be extra safe, parents should “quarantine” the candy for a few days before kids start opening wrappers.
If you decide it’s safe for your children to go out trick or treating, expect to see more homes in your neighborhood with the porch light off, meaning they are not participating. These could be neighbors who are elderly, at high risk due to health concerns, or both.
“To follow social distancing, this should also be the year to stick with your immediate family,” said Trnka. “And don’t be so focused on COVID that you let down your guard over the usual Halloween safety risks.”
- Be vigilant with fire and matches. Lighted candles and jack-o-lanterns should never be left unattended.
- Make sure kids can see well out of their masks and won’t trip on their costumes.
- Dress children appropriately for the weather.
- Walk with flashlights or reflective detail on clothes and costumes.
“Trick-or-treat night is the number one night for pedestrian injury,” said Trnka. “People are driving from one place to another and may not see kids trick or treating. Kids may be excited and not paying attention. And, it could be even more dangerous this year if normal patterns are changed and trick or treating is taking place on various nights around October 31. A car may pull onto a side street, it’s dark, and the driver may not anticipate children out trick or treating on a night that’s not actually the night of Halloween.”