Written by Allie Percival-Wightman, BA, B.Ed.
Every October, when the Fall chill really sets in and the first few snowflakes force me to turn on the heater in my car for the first time since April, I start to get excited. The Halloween stores open again, and by halfway through the month, they are packed full of overly-ambitious costume ideas and harried parents wondering why it costs $75 to dress their kid like a witch every year. I get into the spirit of the season as soon as I can, expanding my collection of multi-colored Jack-o-Lanterns and planning a theme for my front step. Despite the excitement leading up to the season and the crowds filling the stores buying candy and chocolate, one thing seems to be a constant. Every year, without fail, I find myself sitting at the door on the 31st of October wondering where all the kids have gone.
I phone my twenty- and thirty-something friends, many with kids of their own, and lament about the half-dozen or so ghouls and goblins each of us have had at the door that night. Last year, I only had one child come to my door – my next-door neighbor’s little girl, who he sympathetically brought over for a chocolate bar before whisking her off to the mall for the night. Where once my friends and I swapped tips about the best neighborhoods for collecting candy, we now exchange tips on the neighborhoods with the most trick-or-treaters. I know that kids are still dressing up and that parents are still buying candy, but why aren’t they coming out anymore?
Halloween has gotten a bad rap in the last couple of decades due to increased consciousness about nutrition, the availability of indoor activities which allow parents a controlled environment in which to allow their kids the opportunity to collect candy, and an overwhelming fear of allowing kids to roam around in the night and accept candy from strangers.
I'm here to address these concerns and, hopefully, convert Calgary to a city of people who love Halloween as much as I do.
1. But Candy is Bad for You!
I don’t think there’s a soul alive who thinks that it is a fantastic idea to eat tons of candy and chocolate in one sitting. Portioning is important. However, that doesn't stop families from enjoying Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and other festivals which involve massive over-consumption, and Halloween candy is easier to portion out than all eighteen courses in a family holiday dinner.
- After your child returns for the night, dump out their candy haul on the floor. You can immediately get rid of any candy that looks partially unwrapped or otherwise past its best.
- Go through the candy with your child and ask them to pick out any candy or chocolate they don’t like, and get rid of it immediately.
- Ask your child to pick out one or two pieces of candy to eat right now, and pack the rest up in a safe place out of sight – if you feel like there is still too much left, discard half of the remainder.
- Pack a piece with their lunch every day. There is nothing better than getting a piece of Halloween candy with your sandwich, and the extra fifty or sixty calories every day will make very little difference in the long run. (Make sure candy going to school is peanut-free!)
- Allergies are a serious worry for a lot of families. Take this opportunity to meet your neighbors ahead of time and drop off “safe” candies or treats for your child to pick up during their round. Neighbors who are nice enough to hand out candy won’t want your child to miss out on the fun, and should be happy to help out. Let your child know which houses have candies for them.
2. Indoor Trick or Treating is Better!
I don’t have anything against mall or community centre Halloween events – if the night is really cold or your little one is too young to go door-to-door, they can be a great alternative to traditional trick-or-treating. But I don’t believe for a minute that they can replace the experience of stuffing yourself into a costume over your snowsuit, planning a route with your closest friends, and the rare opportunity to explore your neighborhood at night.
- By allowing your kids to run from door-to-door collecting candy, you are encouraging them to get outside and play. Older kids may spend several hours trick-or-treating, burning calories and building stamina. They may be dressed up as an Angry Bird and stuffing their pillowcases with chocolate, but they are secretly exercising. Assuming you don’t let them eat their body weight in Starbursts when they get home, there is probably a net benefit from Halloween activities.
- Allowing your older kids to go out and trick-or-treat with their friends shows that you trust them to take care of themselves and each other, and builds important social bonds with their peers. As a teacher, believe me when I say that Halloween is one of the heights of the social calendar for the under eighteen crowd.
- Taking your younger kids out to trick-or-treat can help curb night-time fears. By taking them out into the night and showing them that monsters and the dark can be fun and spooky, you help take away the unknown element that often causes kids to be afraid.
- If your kids are trick-or-treating in your neighborhood, it will help them become oriented to who lives there and can help them in an emergency. If you go with them (which I highly encourage if they are under the age of ten or eleven) Halloween becomes a great opportunity to meet your neighbors.
- I absolutely understand the appeal of staying warm at the mall indoors, spending an hour gathering candy and showing off your kids’ costume to the other parents, and then going home to catch the second half of Hocus Pocus before bed. Like I've said, if you have very small children, it may be a better idea than dragging them screaming through the neighborhood once they are too tired to walk anymore.
For your older kids, though, I can’t agree with the mall Halloween thing. At the risk of sounding like a hippie, I would encourage you to think about the message it sends. Are you really more comfortable with them taking free candy from strangers at a retail outlet than you are with them taking candy from your neighbours and meeting the local kids? Why?
3. My Child Won't Be Safe!
As modern parents, sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the urban legends about poisoned candies and kidnapped children which circulate this time of year. Is this something that we should be worried about? What about older kids roving around in gangs beating up smaller children for their candy?
- Do me and your kids a favour and take a moment to Google “poisoned Halloween candy.” Read a few of the top articles. It’s not that it very rarely happens – it never happens. Sometimes people tamper with candy, but it’s such big news across North America that everybody knows exactly where and when it has occurred. You could count the number of suspicious cases on one hand.
Does that mean you should let your kids eat anything that comes through the door? Absolutely not – always check your child’s candy with the same care and attention you would use to check anything else your child eats.
- According to a study published in the journal Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment in September 2010, there is no evidence of an increase in child predation on Halloween. Zero. None. Treat Halloween with the same caution and common sense you would any other night of the year.
- If you are worried about your child becoming victim to bullying or any other type of incident, go with them or send them with a large group of friends. Bring yourself a cup of hot coffee or tea in a mug and enjoy the night air – it’s good for you to get out, too.
- The largest risk to your child when trick-or-treating is traffic. Many kids go out dressed in black or dark colors, then run across the road in their excitement to get from house to house. This is very dangerous, and results in an increased number of incidents on Halloween. To prevent this, make sure your child knows how and where to cross the road, and consider choosing a costume with bright colors to help drivers see your child better.
If you have religious, cultural or other reasons for not wanting to send your child out for Halloween, feel free to ignore my advice. However, if you love the spooky night as much as I do, don't let it fade away into memories of the good ol' days. Carve that pumpkin, stuff that kid into a snowsuit (Arctic Explorer makes an excellent Calgarian costume) and get out there!
Allie is a teacher, an Educational Docent at Heritage Park Historical Village, and the Web and Social Media Manager at Calgary's Child Magazine.