Experts weigh in on how to safely celebrate Halloween during COVID-19

October 25, 2020
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In this COVID-19 era, there has been much discussion and dispute on how parents and children should observe Halloween.

Cindy Dell Clark, a Rutgers-Camden professor and researcher, said children need to have that one day in the year where they can dress up, feel like grown-ups and enjoy having a trick-or-treat bag filled with goodies.

“We’re going to put a table of treats outside our door so that people don’t have to cross the threshold into the house to get the treats,” Clark said. “And, just open our door to make a big fuss about the kids with costumes because that’s what’s critical.”

Clark said social distancing and protective masks under the masks, are the way to go this year.

She said there are safe new ways to observe Halloween – like a “trunk or treat” event.

“This is an automatic social distancing to give out treats from the car and it’s also something that communities could organize,” Clark said. “Say kids who all go to a certain school and are going to school online could organize a trunk or treat in the school parking lot.”

She said the cultural connections parents and children share through Halloween can sometimes help them handle the stress of life-changing experiences.

Clark said she studied a Bucks County neighborhood where some residents never came home because of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York.

Despite community calls to forego Halloween that year, many felt it was best to go forward.

“Parents still did take their kids out trick-or-treating but they kept it to neighbors, families that they were familiar with that year,” she said.

Clark said adults need to be sensitive this year about any decorations depicting or mocking COVID-19. She cautioned that those who have lost loved ones to the disease could unintentionally be hurt by such displays.

“If you get too close to literally representing COVID, I think you could unwittingly create some psychological discomfort for people,” she said.

Another expert said explaining to a child that Halloween activities will have to be scaled back or even canceled this year because of the pandemic may not be the easiest thing for kids. However, there are ways to help your little ghosts and goblins understand.

Elkins Park psychotherapist and behavioral specialist Dr. Steven Rosenberg said to be a good listener and let your child express their sadness or anger.

“Show a lot of empathy,” he advised. “Show them that you really feel that, 'Oh my God I am so sorry that this is canceled.' Give your child an opportunity to even grieve the situation that they are missing out on.”

He said to share your feelings and then plan some safe Halloween fun inside.

“Dressing up with your kids, holding a virtual costume party, making treats, playing games, watching a Halloween-themed movie or even reading stories a book out loud,” he suggested.

Centering on the positives will help children handle the changes.

“In cancelling these events it is inevitable, but try to empower your kids with a great deal of positivity and to encourage them to focus on the things that they can control, such as their attitude and the ways in which they can deal with this disappointment,” said Rosenberg.

He also recommended telling your child how proud you are of them on handling a very difficult situation, and to explain how they can make Halloween nicer for others, like creating a card for a frontline worker or making chalk art for a home-bound neighbor.

“It helps everyone to understand that we are in this together. And it’s a wonderful thing to celebrate and event like this and make the best out of it,” said Rosenberg.

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