10 COVID-19 Child-Friendly Halloween Activities
By Dr. Cheryl Andaya
Clinical Child and Family Psychologist
Yikes! Halloween is around the corner!!!! I have been scrambling to find COVID-19 child-friendly Halloween activities to keep Halloween fun for the kiddos . Social distancing is keeping us home this Halloween so I’ve been thinking of alternative ways to celebrate. Many children, including my own, are disappointed about not getting to trick or treat and do the all the fun things we traditionally did in the past around this time. Add this to the already ongoing stressors we are all facing during this pandemic…and the political ugliness going on…I NEED A BREAK!
Psychologically, it’s been draining as we try to juggle schooling from home, working from home, and following the ever-changing rules of social distancing. Just know that if you’re stressed, and missing your social life (yes, this includes socializing at work and at the gym), your little ones are also missing their friends and other people outside of the home. This is what we psychologists call, “social supports,” a fancy term that basically means people in your environment who help alleviate stressors by being there as a support, help, or resource.
If your child has been struggling with anxiety or depression related to COVID-19, I wrote about some ways to address that and it can be found [here: Helping Children Cope with the Psychological Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic].
Acknowledging these concerns and throwing in some of the ideas below can lift you and your child(ren)’s mood. Feeling overwhelmed, keep it simple! No need to be as elaborative as some of the ideas I listed. Remember, one of the biggest influence on your child is the way you are managing your own stressors, so don’t stress yourself out!
Here is a quick list of COVID-19 child-friendly Halloween activities that are safe to do this year to help keep your kids in the Halloween spirit…I’ve added the ways it helps with child development/mental health (because yeah, psychologist…my brain processes things that way at times ):
- Keep the traditions that are safe and do not violate your state’s COVID-19 safety regulations. This can include decorating the house, pumpkin carving, and pumpkin picking – some pumpkin farms have arranged limited visitors at a time and since it’s in the open air, it can be safe.
Keeping traditions provides some sense of familiarity, predictability, and stability for your child and helps keep the excitement of Halloween. It also provides great picture opportunities as you are creating memories. As you’re decorating, please keep in mind of your child’s comfort level. If your child is anxious about scary objects, you would want to use more cutesy decorations as opposed to gore and horror objects.
I made the mistake a few Halloweens back of putting up a scary looking candle that sang and moved with motion detection. I thought it was cute but my then little one informed me right away that he preferred that guy be used to decorate my office at work instead. Needless to say, that guy (the candle monster, not my kid ) remains in my office until my little is ready for it to be Halloween home decor.
Arts and Crafts
2. Halloween arts and crafts – This can be a new addition if you’ve never done arts and crafts before. Some fun ideas include making a cut out of pumpkins and decorating it, using washable markers or dry-erase markers to decorate windows, finger-painting ghosts on black paper, or even help them construct a ghost-busting pack. A quick online search can give you TONS of ideas. Easy Peasy and Fun offers some great child-friendly ideas here.
Arts and crafts strengthen fine-motor development and hand-eye coordination in children as well as creativity, encouraging them to use their imaginations and see things differently.
Movies at Home
3. Watch kid-friendly Halloween movies – as Halloween approaches, watching Halloween themed movies can be fun. Of course, there’s the old favorites, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Hocus Pocus (I still haven’t watched this in its entirety), Nightmare Before Christmas, Addams Family, Hotel Transylvania, Beetlejuice, and Ghostbusters. I really want to see new The Witches movie as well.
Watching movies together as a family enhances family bonding. Take it a step further and discuss the movie – point out real versus not real, and identify emotions to help develop empathy and emotional intelligence.
Yummies for the Tummies
4. Make Halloween treats – as you’re doing arts, and crafts, buss out the treats!!!! Making Halloween yummies can be another new tradition to add to your Halloween fun! Cookies in the shape of Halloween characters/objects. Instead of a Gingerbread house, how about a Gingerbread Haunted Mansion? Hmmmm, I wonder if I can make some kind of mochi snack 🤔. I’m craving some mochi.
Engaging the other senses – smell, taste, sight, and feel helps to strengthen memories. I’m sure we all recall the yummy taste of pumpkin pie (give me a sec while I indulge in that memory 😋…good Lord I want a piece now!), the smell of pumpkin spice, and the feel of putting frosting on cookies as you decorate. I don’t cook (my husband is the cook of the home) so I can offer little in this area. However, engaging your child’s sense of smell and taste while doing another Halloween activity helps with that emotional connection and memory.
5. Dress up – work on costumes. With everyone being a little more cautious about spending money during this time, being forced to spend more time at home is a great opportunity to flex those DIY skills and be creative with your costumes. Seriously, as much as I like store-bought costumes, I LOVE seeing people’s creativity.
Again, you’re helping your child(ren) develop their fine-motor skills as they work on intricate (and not so intricate) details of their costumes. There is often problem-solving involved as they need to figure out ways to make parts of their costume fit, and creativity as they bring their idea to life. There is also family bonding that occurs when they reach out to you or other family members for help.
6. Set up haunted spaces – Halloween campout anyone? Get that tent out and do a Halloween campout instead of trick-or-treating. Put out the jack-o-lantern you carved, give the kids flashlights, hook them up with some smores materials and enjoy the campout.
Let your child do the planning and this helps them build on problem solving skills – what will they need for their haunted campout? Help them prepare but let them lead. You can throw out hints and suggestions but let them make the final decisions and they can learn from experience and develop those leadership skills. You’ll be right there with them or close by so no biggie. If you don’t have a tent or the outdoor space, then build a living room blanket fort! Again, creativity and problem-solving are strengthened with this activity.
7. Halloween Hunt – Hide ghosts, witches, pumpkins around the house and have the kiddos go around trying to find them – Kinda like an Easter egg hunt but with ghosts and ghouls! This will keep them busy for a while. If your kids are like mine, they can ask for you to hide the items over and over or they can take turns hiding it.
Resilience, persistence, and problem-solving help will be tapped into with this activity as they search for the items. Just make sure you create boundaries (ex: only in the house, not in any drawers, not in areas you can’t reach, etc.) to keep them safe and don’t go in places they are not supposed to.
Find the Treasure
8. Halloween Treasure Hunt – This takes a little bit of planning, you give clues the kids read and follow which takes them to various places around the house until they reach the last clue and ultimately the treasure – lots o candy!!!! (or whatever Halloween treat you have hidden)
Problem-solving is the key for this one as they think of solutions to riddles. For younger children, you can keep it relatively simple (ex: under the place Fido likes to nap) while making it more challenging for older ones (ex: a place where food is preserved and turns water into another state = freezer).
Zooming Into Halloween
9. Virtual trick or treat – get together online with a bunch of friends to hunt for treats – Okay this one is also elaborate and requires coordination with other families. I thought of this one as I was trying to find a way for our son to socialize with his friends from a distance. Contact the families of your child’s friends and see if they want to participate. Then, similar to the treasure hunt, you think of clues where you can hide objects around your home. The number of clues should be the same as the number of friends your child has. You then give each friend (likely their parent) one of the clues you made up for your child. Have the other families do the same. You should have one clue from each of your child’s friends.
On Halloween night, you will need to hide the items based on the clues you created for your child. Then arrange a zoom meeting with the friends. Each child then takes a turn saying, “trick or treat – (friend’s name)” and the named friend reads a clue that was sent from the trick-or-treater’s family. The trick-or-treater will then go and find that hidden item in their house. When the child finds it and returns, then it’s the next trick-or-treater’s turn until all the clues have been read and treats found. Not sure how it will go since I’ve never tried it but we’ll see.
This one taps into the problem-solving, listening skills as they listen to their friends read the clues, reading skills when they read their friends’ clues, turn-taking, and strengthening their social circle through social-skills building.
Escape from Halloween Blues
10. Escape rooms (from Dr. Kathryn Chun) – This was actually an idea by my colleague/friend. Setting up various rooms in your home as escape rooms with clues for the children to figure out sounds like a fun night and a great way to have the family work as a team.
Again, this taps into problem-solving and resilience as your child tries to figure out ways to escape the room. There is also team building if you have siblings and family members work together.
There are many options when it comes to celebrating Halloween. It will be different, but that does not mean you can’t make it fun and memorable. Above all, remember your children always look to you to see your reactions and ways to cope with adversity. Praise them for being flexible and encourage them to come up with ideas to contribute to the celebrations. However, also validate and empathize with them when they express their disappointment, sadness, frustration or anger. Let them know you understand, you may even feel a bit of those feelings yourself. However, you and your child can find alternative activities and still have fun. If you do decide to do trick-or-treating door to door, check out the safety tips for your child here.
Happy COVID-19 Halloween!!!!!
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I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.