Maggie Perrins, Resource Consultant, Halton Region,
Our Kids Network Early Years Mental Health Committee Member
Halloween is an exciting time for our little ones! The countdown has been on since the end of September. Children are excited about deciding on a costume, and are anticipating dressing up for school, Halloween parties, scary sights, and of course, the treats!
As with any exciting time, there is also stress for children – and adults. Feeling stressed can translate to challenging behavior in younger children. Dr. Stuart Shanker, a renowned expert on child development and self-regulation, says that recognizing the difference between what is misbehavior and what we call stress behavior is important. Misbehaviour implies that a child could have acted differently. They are aware that they should not have done something. Stress behavior is when the child is not fully aware of what they are doing and has limited capacity to act differently.
Help children self-regulate to lighten stress load
Stress behavior can be caused by a high stress load. Adding to a child’s stress load, even with fun and exciting stress may cause stress behaviours. As educators, we want children to have fun at Halloween, but it is important to recognize that it can also be a very stressful time for them. “Self-regulation refers to how well we manage stress, how much energy we expend, and how well we recover,” Dr. Shanker explains. Helping children to self-regulate during these times, lightens their stress load and, ideally, can prevent stress behaviours.
Ideas for lightening the stress load
- Encourage children to get a good night’s sleep before the big event. Sleep is essential for coping and recovering from stress.
- Give more time to complete tasks and limit demands.
- Provide down-time in class and help them practice mindfulness.
- Prepare children in advance of changes to their daily routines. Classroom parties and costume parades add to the stress load for some children.
- Maintain a quiet area for children who need a break from sensory overload during Halloween events and other celebrations.
- Limit sweet treats or make healthy Halloween treats in the classroom.
- Co-self-regulate! Be present with children and slow-down. They can sense and take on other people’s stress. Take the time before class starts to consciously regulate yourself so that you can be genuine in your tone and body language.
Remember…exciting times can also be stressful times for both adults and children. Plan ahead to lighten the load and be mindful of stressors in your students and your own children. Limiting these stressors can prevent stress behaviours so everyone can enjoy the fun and spirit of Halloween!
To learn more about self-regulation and how it relates to the mental well-being of children, explore the Halton Early Years Mental Health Toolkit.
Take it further by exploring the Executive Function and Self-Regulation area of the Early Years Mental Health Tools and Resources section.