BLOG: Dear Grumpy People, please don't wreck Halloween for the kids

Julie Maclellan

Ah, Halloween. It’s the time of year when the inflatable ghost and pumpkin family inhabit the front lawn, when the orange lights go up on the front porch, when husband and child outdo themselves with spooky and silly jack-o-lanterns, when kid spins in circles with the excitement of it all as she hits the streets with her big bestie to go trick-or-treating.

It’s also the time of year when I take to my blog to rant about the Grumpy Grumpersons who seem to be on a mission to deflate the Halloween spirit of children everywhere.

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I’m not talking about those who grumble about fireworks (I admit that I’m a huge fireworks grumbler myself, so I’m giving you a free pass). I’m talking about those who insist upon taking part in the tradition of trick-or-treating and then spend the entire evening grumbling about how the children who came to their door weren’t behaving “right.”

You know the grumbles: The kids were too loud, or too quiet, or too rude, or too excited, or too greedy, or too young, or too old, or dressed in the wrong costume or not enough of a costume. And above all – gasp! – THEY DIDN’T SAY THANK YOU.

I would like to issue my annual reminder to such people: Chill.

Allow me to climb upon my Halloween soapbox, once again, to remind you that when the overexcited, overeager children come to your door tonight, you do not know their stories.

The ones who don’t say please or thank you – or who don’t say anything at all – are not just being rude. They may be shy, or anxious, or have some other communication issue you don’t know about. The crowds, the noise, the darkness, the over-the-top decorations, the crazy-frantic-excitement of it all can be overwhelming for even the most confident of children.

The ones who don’t wear costumes are not just being lazy. They may have changed their mind at the last minute, because they’re three and that’s what three-year-olds do. They may have hated the idea of getting into a costume because it was too itchy or too scratchy or too warm or too uncomfortable or it just made them feel too different. They may have some underlying issue, need or concern you can’t see.

The ones who behave “badly” – who are loud, rambunctious, pushy and aggressive, who barge right into your house or who grab four candies instead of just one – are not just being bad. They’re overtired, overexcited, overstimulated, scared, silly, giddy, caught up in the moment and not sure how to deal with the sensory overload that comes along with walking around the neighbourhood in the dark presenting yourself on strangers’ doorsteps in search of sugar. Or they may have a behavioural issue that has nothing to do with this moment at all.

The ones who look too “big” to be trick-or-treating are not just trying to scam you. They may be younger than they look. They may have a cognitive or developmental issue that affects their behaviour. Or they may just be teens on the verge of knowing they’re almost too old, trying to cling to one last vestige of their carefree childhood before they have to be too cool to care. (You really think it’s a “bad” thing that teenagers are out trick-or-treating – such a sweet, innocent and harmless pastime? Then don’t rant about the ones who are doing less wholesome things, like drinking or trying party drugs.)

Maybe these kids, all of them, don’t look like and act like you thought trick-or-treaters “should” look and act. Yes, yes, maybe they really are horrible children and their parents are failing and all of us 21st-century parents are raising a generation of spoiled, entitled, horrible little beasties and your kids behaved better in 1982 and we should all be ashamed of ourselves, and, and, and.

Or maybe, just maybe, life will be a lot more livable for all of us if you let compassion and empathy win out over judgment, just this once.

If you really can’t stand it all, that’s fine. Keep your lights off and don’t answer the door. (Yes, an occasional child will probably still be so distracted by the excitement of it all that she’ll come up your steps anyway and ring your doorbell without even noticing. Don’t open the door and yell at her for it. Just don’t answer. She’ll go away when she realizes her mistake.)

Or, if you’d like to participate in the spirit of the season but you just don’t have it in you to answer the door for the crazy crowds of kids, that’s OK too. You can always just leave a big bowl of candy on your porch with a sign saying: “Please take one.” In my experience, kids are surprisingly good at following instructions and leaving treats for all the other excited little ghosties and goblins.

But whatever you do, please don’t turn on your porch light and prepare to hand out candy and then get grumpy about the fact that kids aren’t doing it “right.”

Instead, practice these five simple steps:

1. Open door.

2. Smile and say something pleasant. (If you’re stuck for what to say, such good old standbys as “I love your costumes” or “Wow, check out that amazing outfit” or plain old “Happy Halloween!” all work nicely.)

3. Place treats in proffered bags and pumpkins.

4. If they say “thank you,” reward them with a big “You’re welcome.” If they don’t, repeat “Happy Halloween” with a smile. (Do not, under any circumstances, sigh or chide them for not saying thank you.)

5. Close door. Repeat from Step 1 when doorbell rings again.

I swear it’s not hard.

Please, just be kind, and let’s keep Halloween fun for everyone.

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