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5 Ways to Avoid Halloween Trick-or-Treat Meltdowns

Trick-or-treating is supposed to be a night of fun, treats and adventure. But the mixture of sugar, late bedtimes and excitement often ends in tears and frustration for little ones.

Here's how to make Halloween a night for kids to let loose with all the fun and none of the tantrums.

Photo by Brigitte Dale

1. Talk about what might happen ahead of time

Here are some things that may not seem like a big deal to you, but could be a very big deal to your kid:

  • Someone else could have the same or better costume as them. There could (gasp!) be another "princess kitten" out there, perhaps even one with the strobe-light tiara that you said "no" to at the costume shop.
  • Other kids may get different, better or more candy. Sometimes the person ahead of you in line gets a peanut butter cup, and you get a lollipop. But kids still need to say "thank you" and smile.
  • While trick-or-treating, there may be costumes or decorations that your child finds scary. You can plan to skip houses that are obviously too spooky, but it's also a good idea to let your kid know there will be lots of "silly" creepy decorations and costumes that are all just pretend. Remind them that, while nothing is real or dangerous, they can go home at any time they want.
  • There might be some treats that your child won't be allowed to keep, and that decision will be up to you as the parent. It's not up for discussion. Whether it's a homemade caramel apple from someone you don't know or candy with a wrapper that looks like it may have been tampered with, your kid has to know you'll be the one deciding which treats are keepers and which are too questionable to eat.
  • Prepare them for how much candy they'll be allowed to eat and when. There are several schools of thought when it comes to kids and Halloween candy. Some parents have their children immediately trade in all their candy for a brand new toy. Others ration out one piece of candy per day so that it lasts, basically, forever. Personally, I'm a fan of letting Halloween be the one night a year where kids are allowed to eat way too much candy. Just get it over with.

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2. Practice trick or treating at your own house first

Even though the process seems pretty straightforward, doing practice runs at your own house will help take the nerves away, especially for little ones. Have whoever answers the door wear a mask or jump out and say "boo!" It may seem silly at the time to you (and your kid), but it will help them get the idea that spooky surprises are meant to be fun and not scary.

Practicing at home is also a chance to practice trick-or-treating manners. I might be a total old-fashioned curmudgeon, but it bothers me when older kids come to my door and just hold out their candy bags expectantly without saying anything. "Trick or treat!" is important. I mean, I'm giving you free candy, don't act too cool for me. And remind your kids say "thank you" as well.

End the evening on a special note by making a big deal of letting kids pick one piece of candy to eat before brushing their teeth for the night.

3. Limit the festivities to a few hours

Yes, you may be invited to a neighborhood costume party AND a fall festival at your child's preschool AND a trunk-or-treat event at your church—all before trick-or-treating begins at 5 p.m. I know you're eager to show off your kid in her adorable costume, but choose one event and fully embrace it for the best chance at a tantrum-free night.

4. Have irresistible, hearty food ready to eat when they arrive home

Most kids are too excited to eat much before trick-or-treating, so that means you'll have a narrow window of time after your child gets back home before they sit down and eat a dinner-size portion of candy. Have something premade that your child knows and loves. Encourage him to fill up on real food instead of treats. Think homemade mac 'n cheese, pizza or other favorites.

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5. Let bedtime be special, but not that special

Sometimes less is more. After a busy night of trick-or-treating and special treats, keep bedtime simple and not too much later than usual. End the evening on a special note by making a big deal of letting kids pick one piece of candy to eat before brushing their teeth for the night. You might even let them wear a small part of their costumes to bed, if that's possible.

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