"It's a good idea to limit [trick or treating] to people that you know and not try to do a hundred houses in the neighborhood," says Parsons. "The best time to take small children is before it gets dark." Things seem less scary in the early evening, and most of the older kids with scarier costumes are waiting until after nightfall to hit the pavement. Your little one may feel more secure with a flashlight to carry, just in case, and of course with Mom or Dad's company to the neighbors' front doors.
Handling the Handouts
Feeding your children a hearty, healthy dinner before they trick-or-treat makes it less tempting to sneak goodies on the candy route—but what are you supposed to do with all that sugary stuff for the next month (or two, or three?) Patty Dawson, mother of three in Georgetown, Kentucky, suggests using the friendly "Halloween Witch" to help limit kids' sugar highs. The Halloween Witch is "the one who takes my kids' candy about two days after Halloween and leaves them a dollar. They get to keep a couple of pieces," says Dawson. The kids "leave the candy out on the steps and she [the Halloween Witch] magically comes during the night. The kids think it's great because they get cash (or a Halloween toy) and it's well worth a couple of bucks to get the stuff out of my house!"
Of course nobody says you have to get rid of all the candy! Hard candy will keep for a long time, so it can be saved (be sure to keep it away from toddlers since it is a choking hazard). Other candy can go into school or work lunches as a small treat. Break Hershey bars into pieces and add them to a batch of brownies, or use them the next time you make cookies requiring chocolate chips. Chop up Butterfingers for a frozen yogurt topping or blend in a homemade shake. Use those little fun bars in a Snickers pie the next time you have company. Yum!
Going to the pumpkin patch can be a great weekend activity for the whole family. Show your child how pumpkins grow. See who can find the biggest and smallest pumpkins, the roundest or the funniest shaped. Then be sure to choose a pumpkin you can take home for your front porch.
Kids will have fun rolling up their sleeves and digging out pumpkin seeds, but remember, for safety reasons children should be at least six before they're allowed to help carve the pumpkin; your child can draw a face on the pumpkin with markers, and you can do the carving. (Use these decorating and craft ideas!)
If your toddler or preschooler resists relinquishing creative control over designing the family pumpkin, put away the carving knife and let your child paste on felt or paper facial features, or even use brushes and thick tempera paint to create a smiling jack-o-lantern.
Other Autumn Adventures
Even if you don't think your child is ready for trick-or-treating, most communities have various fall activities geared toward families. Attend a harvest party at a local community center, church or library, go apple picking, or just take a walk through the park to find the brightest leaves. You can also try hosting your own party for your little one, complete with pumpkin cookies, games, and kids wearing their favorite non-scary costumes.
Avoid haunted houses, scary movies, or anything intended to frighten. Often times little kids absorb more than we think they do—they hear even when we think they aren't listening, and they see when we think they aren't watching—so it's best to keep them away from anything that may provoke nightmares.
A little planning can create a memorable Halloween for your child and you. As for my daughter—she's eager to don her favorite pink princess gown and trick-or-treat through the neighborhood. And I can hardly wait for the chance to go with her.