Here’s How to Head Off Trick-or-Treating Tantrums

While Halloween is the ultimate treat for kids, the holiday can turn into a parenting nightmare.

“Every other day of the year, we tell children not to take candy from strangers. But on Halloween we tell children it’s good to fill up a whole bucket of candy from strangers,” said Leslie Frankel, a parenting researcher and assistant professor at the University of Houston’s College of Education. “It’s confusing to kids. And parents are set up to fail if they don’t know the right tricks.”

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Frankel, a certified family life educator, offers several tips to keep Halloween from spooking parents in the days to come:

  • Control the controllables. Give your children a healthy snack or have dinner before trick-or-treating. Otherwise, your kids are going to have candy for dinner.
  • Set expectations with your children before Halloween night. Explain that your family’s Halloween traditions and routines may be different from what their friends do. For example, you may decide to allow your child to pick two or three pieces of candy and donate the rest. Try searching for dentists or groups with buy-back programs.
  • Explain why you’re not being a Grinch. Teach your children that eating too much candy can cause stomachaches. You love them and don’t want them to feel sick.
  • Curate your children’s candy haul first. Remove unwrapped goodies, possible choking hazards, foods your child has an allergy to and whatever else concerns you. You usually can do this behind the scenes for younger kids but can explain to older children that you want to make sure their food is safe.
  • Give your children “perceived autonomy.” Let them make choices after you have curated the options. That way, they have the experience of choosing what they want but you know whatever they pick is a reasonable decision.
  • Model good eating habits for your children. If your children see you splurging on candy, your words of advice to eat in moderation won’t be taken as seriously.

On a personal note, Frankel says she does plan to take her 2-year-old daughter trick-or-treating.

“Researchers have found that it’s less healthy for kids when parents are overly controlling around food,” she said. “Those kids tend to overeat when they’re not supervised by their parents. In the context of Halloween, it’s OK to let your children participate but also give them some structure. You don’t want your child to eat so much candy they vomit. I’m not even being funny – it happens.”

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