October 29, 2013

Ask: How to make Halloween less scary for a kid with ADHD?

Between the excitement and the sugar rush, Halloween can be pretty frightful for a child with ADHD. Joel Dillon, a psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary, says planning is key to keeping the festivities fun.

Q:  My son has ADHD, Halloween is around the corner, and I'm already anticipating a meltdown.  He gets excited about Halloween just like every kid, but in the past he has gotten so wound up that it's hard to get him to bed on Halloween night. Seems like the next few days we have to deal with a candy hangover, hyperactivity and irritability.  I'd like to boycott Halloween altogether but my friends tell me that would make me a real "witch."  Help!  Do you have any suggestions for making Halloween less scary this year?

A:  When preparing for an event with any young child, particularly one with attention difficulties, it is imperative that you make a plan, have a way to keep your child on track, and make efforts to reinforce good behavior.  Halloween is no exception.  So to head off meltdowns, make a plan for the night for your child with as much detail as possible.  Consider such details as where to go, how long you plan to stay out, who will be joining you, what behaviors are acceptable, and, most importantly, how much candy is enough. 

Ask your child to give input to some parts of the plan, such as what friends to invite and where to trick or treat (rather than how much candy or when you need to return).  Also keep in mind this holiday is a blast for kids, and most adults, so ask your child “How can I make this fun for you?”  Once this plan is firm and your child has had a chance to contribute, review it prior to going out for the evening. 

Having clear expectations will help provide structure that helps children, particularly ones with attention and hyperactivity difficulties, succeed. There is nothing wrong with reminding your child about the plan throughout the evening.  Not necessarily nagging, but gentle reminders like “OK we have 30 minutes left, how would you like to spend them?”

Finally, reward your child for sticking to the plan.  Praise him for staying on task and let him know when he does the right thing.  Consider using the candy as a reward.  There is nothing wrong with allowing your child to earn his or her candy for the evening.  This creates a set limit for the candy consumption and gives your child goals for the evening.  By setting up a plan and reward system for the night, you will assure that the costumes remain the scariest thing of the evening.

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Dr. Dillon or any of our experts by sending email to


Dr. Joel Dillon is a psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary who offers services to children and adults with disruptive behaviors, ADHD, substance abuse and anger management difficulties. Contact Orenstein Solutions at (919) 428-2766, ext. 0, or visit for more information.


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