In storm-struck areas, how to help kids deal with Halloween disappointment

Oct. 30, 2012 at 1:33 PM ET

Does trick or treat taste as sweet when it's done on Nov. 3? While kids may be disappointed about delaying Halloween, it's a good moment to teach them...
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Does trick or treat taste as sweet when it's done on Nov. 3? While kids may be disappointed about delaying Halloween, it's a good moment to teach them about perspective and gratitude.

Kristen Jervey’s children will still don their costumes, walk the neighborhood with friends and collect their fill of chocolates, gummies and lollipops this year. They just won’t be doing it on Halloween night.

They’re among the thousands, if not millions, of youngsters living in areas of the Northeast where the destruction from Hurricane Sandy forced the postponement of trick-or-treating until the weekend.  New Jersey governor Chris Christie said Tuesday that he will reschedule the holiday in his state by executive order if he doesn't think it's safe for kids to be out on Wednesday night.

Of course, the Jerveys and kids like them are lucky: They still have a home this Halloween. But even though the storm has done much worse, and even though the candy will eventually come, the delay is a major disappointment, especially for younger kids.

While Jervey’s 3-year-old daughter, Emma, didn’t really understand the impact of the date change, her 6-year-old son, Max, knows exactly when Halloween is supposed to be - and he didn’t like the news.

“He was just upset,” said Jervey, of Norwell, Mass., where trick or treating was moved to Saturday. “He started crying.”

Jervey tried to keep her first-grade policeman excited about the festivities. “I said it was OK that he’s disappointed but it’s going to be even better,” Jervey said. “I tried to turn it into a positive – maybe he’ll get more candy or see more friends.”

Though it may seem like a minor inconvenience to parents, especially those dealing with devastating storm damage, not getting to trick or treat on Oct. 31 can be a really big deal for kids. It’s the second year in a row that some communities in this part of the country have had to put Halloween on hold because of an October storm. It’s hard to wait a few extra days to zip up that costume or count every piece of candy from that night’s haul. But a delayed Halloween can help teach kids how to deal with disappointment, and gain a little perspective along the way.

“Parents can acknowledge that it’s disappointing and explain that these things happen,” said Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist and TODAY contributor. “There are things that are beyond our control that sometimes impact our plans, so they get a life lesson and find some alternative way to do something that they can look forward to.”

“Who says trick or treating has to be on one day?” she offered as something parents can say. “If we miss it, that’s a great excuse to do it on a different day.”

Parents shouldn’t diminish their kids’ feeling of disappointment or make them feel guilty for being upset that Halloween will have to wait, she said. Instead, they should try to get kids to focus on the good things in their lives, especially in the aftermath of the storm.

“Yes, there are disappointing things that happen in life but let’s take stock on what’s positive,” Ludwig urged parents to say. “Mother Nature can be fickle. Isn’t it good that everybody is safe and that we can reschedule this day for another time?”

David Palmiter, a child psychologist who has written about instilling resilience in children, says parents should let their children feel the disappointment instead of rushing in with a quick fix. Dealing with real life disappointments helps make kids stronger.

“These experiences of disappointment, of frustration, of pain, they’re very important for kids to experience … so they develop the appropriate coping mechanisms,” said Palmiter, a psychology professor at Marywood University in Scranton, Penn.

From disappointment automatically come opportunities for enjoyment, ones that would not have otherwise been there, he said. If a family can’t trick or treat on Oct. 31, they might construct a haunted house for the neighborhood.

The message to kids, Palmiter said, is: “It’s OK. This is life. Feel bad and look for the joy.”

Sometimes, kids find that unexpected happiness on their own.

Denise Nestor, also of Norwell, Mass., said her 11-year-old son was upset when he heard the news about Halloween trick-or-treating being postponed because the new date conflicted with his football game. With an undefeated team, she said, he’d play ball but miss out on the candy. But, then he found that he could trick or treat Wednesday night after all, by going to a nearby town where his aunt lives.

“He realized there’s good things that come out of it, too,” Nestor said. “He did learn a lesson that where there’s a will, there’s a way, because he gets to do both now.”

Related story: After Sandy, East Coast kids need a 'Plan B' for Halloween


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