Decorating Pumpkins with kids with sensory processing issues

Halloween can be such a tough time for children with sensory processing issues. Its also a learning process for parents and how they can better help their child enjoy Halloween and not fear or dread it. Sometimes planning ahead, changing the way you do things and some creative parenting can make it a fun experience for your whole family.

Last year carving pumpkins was the beginning of us realizing what its really like to have a child who processes textures very differently. Terror (just shy of 2 years old then) was all excited last year to be a "big kid" and help out with carving pumpkins. Once we started Ace (5 years old) dove right in as usual and started pulling out the guts and seeds. Terror plunged his arm into his pumpkin and started screaming, he didn't stop until every bit of pumpkin was completely wiped off his arm. He acted as though we had just played the meanest trick on him. After that he wanted nothing to do with Pumpkins and didn't want to come into the kitchen until we had cleaned up and the pumpkins were outside.

This year I thought I would tackle it from a different angle to help Terror adjust, enjoy pumpkins and be part of the Halloween family tradition of carving pumpkins.

First we went to the pumpkin patch on a no stress day (meaning nothing else but that activity that day) I gave Terror tons of notice that we were going and exactly what was going to happen repeating over and over. "We are going to walk to the pumpkin patch from the car with a wagon. You can point to one and mommy will pick it up and put it in the wagon." So by the time we got there Terror (just shy of 3 years old now) was good to go. He even wanted to pull the wagon. He took a while to pick a pumpkin, much longer then my other two children. He knew he didn't have to touch it cause Mommy was going to pick it up for him but he wanted to be comfortable with the pumpkin he was asking me to touch for him.

I cleaned them all off when we got home and for a few days we left them on the porch not carved so that he got use to them being there. We talked about them a lot and how you carve them to have scary or silly faces. Once he started asking questions about the pumpkins I asked him if he want his to come inside. He said yes and I put it on the kitchen table and left it there. By the afternoon I had laid out markers, googly eyes, glue, and other craft supplies around the pumpkin and just left it all there. I did that so he could make the decision to go over and check it out. He went over shorty after I left the room and decided to decorate his pumpkin. I stayed away peeking from the family room as to not add any pressure or expectations of him making it easier for him to touch it and get comfortable. This is what he came up with. It was perfect and no stress for him. We put it outside on the porch together and he was so proud of himself.

When it came time to carve the other pumpkins I talked to him about it all day and told him he could just watch he didn't have to touch it, or he could stay in the family room and him and I would watch a movie instead. He chose to watch but not touch the pumpkins. Half way threw he grabbed a spoon and from a safe distance above the opening of the pumpkin he pretended to be stirring it. Once Ace got all the seeds out and in a bowl I washed them all off really good and left them in a bowl by the pumpkins in some water in case we found some more. After a few minutes Terror started to touch the cleaned off pumpkins seeds and soon had his whole hand in the bowl and was squishing them around. Halloween pumpkin carving was a success this year. Terror may not ever touch the inside of a pumpkin or carve one and that's ok but at least I know he will participate with us year after year now as long as we ease him into it.

Helpful tips to help your child get through their tactile issues during Pumpkin carving time:

• Let them pick the pumpkin but pick it up for them and carry it for them.
• Clean the pumpkin off and let them watch so they know you cleaned it.
• Leave them outside but talk about them every time to enter and exit the house to get them comfortable with them.
• Let your child decorate the outside of the uncarved pumpkin any way they want. As long as they are old enough leave the pumpkin and supplies on the table and let them know they can decorate the pumpkin when ever they want. Then leave their line of sight so they feel no pressure to do anything with it unless they want to. You might have to leave it out for a for hours before they even decide to go over and check it out.
 • Let them decide if they want to be part of the carving and offer an alternative activity for them to do so they know they have a choice.
• Clean off the pumpkin seeds and leave them in some water near them and so if they choose to explore the fell of the pumpkin seeds they can but again no pressure about it just casually leave it on the table and don't pay attention to it.

This is just our own personal experience with what has helped our tactile sensitive child during pumpkin carving time. I hope these ideas help others out there dealing with a tactile sensitive child at Halloween.

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