The Treat in the Trick

Elizabeth Spencer

It’s almost Halloween! My favorite holiday of the year – why? Because it’s not possible to be perfect on Halloween, and I embrace the imperfect. Other holidays have a perfect image we measure our own celebration by, but not Halloween! On this one day, the gory and the grimy rule. We all savor our shivers of fear about horrors we normally avoid. Terrifying movies! Ghosts! Devils! Spiders! All are out in force for Halloween.

When my kids were in elementary school, we started making a grave yard in front of our house for Halloween. Every year the ghouls were different, but there was always a large mechanical noise activated spider by the front door. You can see me in the picture sitting in the partially constructed graveyard with some of the spooky creatures, and you can see how happy it all makes me.

My kids are now grown, but a new batch of kids on my street eagerly anticipate the ghouls and spiders. It made my heart warm last year when a 5-year-old trick or treater proudly showed his 3-year-old sister where the spider was hiding and how to make it move by clapping his hands. A bit of exposure right in the front yard! You can tell I’m a CBT therapist, right?

My decorations are useful year-round with my clients, if I need things that are unpredictable but clearly playful to practice with. One 8-year-old client I worked with was terribly afraid of balloons (because they might burst) and other loud, unexpended sounds. We played with balloons, we did a bit of an experiment blowing up different levels of balloons and popping them, and he did extended homework with balloons at home.

While he was completely well about that topic, Halloween offered a new opportunity since he had never been out trick or treating before. With his agreement, I brought in a few of my smaller decorations for him to practice with two weeks before the 31st. He was initially so scared we had to go to my car in the parking lot to look at them through the window. Eventually, we had them out and then turned on so he could see how they work, making noise and lighting up as you approach them. Our session was during the daylight, so he and his mom also practiced walking up and down their own street at night.

On Halloween, tightly holding his mom’s hand and dressed as a cowboy he took his turn at trick or treating. His mom said it was amazing after the first house when he got candy, how he warmed to the task and had a blast. Houses like mine with decorations slowed him down a bit, but he handled them fine. After all, there is fun that goes along with a shiver!

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