As a kid, I loved Halloween. After all, what’s not to love about dressing up in costumes and collecting candy? As an adult, I love Halloween because it’s one of the rare times families in the same neighborhood connect. Usually we are too busy coming and going, shuffling our kids to lessons and play dates, or bringing in groceries to take a few minutes to have a conversation. That changes on Halloween. People camp out in their driveways to hand out candy. You catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while. You admire new babies and growing kids. It’s a community event, which is an endangered species today.
We are keeping up the trick-or-treating tradition with our kids, who have embraced it since they were able to walk. And with trick-or-treating comes candy. So much sugar. What’s a parent to do?
The baby and toddler years.
In these early days of babyhood and toddlerhood, our little ones had a blast going door-to-door on our street and filling their tiny baskets with a dozen pieces of candy or so from neighbors we knew. In those early years, they didn’t yet know what candy was, so we could happily let them play with the shiny, colorfully wrapped items and then, I have to admit, eat the candy ourselves after they were asleep. Every parenting decision was pretty easy. Of course, that phase didn’t last very long.
The preschooler years.
As kids enter the preschooler years, they inevitably learn what candy is. Ours did, and they were fans. They were excited not only to collect candy on Halloween, but also to eat it. We were ok with that. As many experts point out, it’s important for kids to grow up enjoying treats without any guilt or shame about it. In an era obsessed with dieting and rife with problematic diet advice, sending the message that candy or treats are dangerous is, well, dangerous. So, we embraced the Halloween candy and let our kids have at it with abandon (with a few constraints, like not sugaring up right before bedtime). Overall, it was a successful strategy. They usually ate quite a bit of candy on Halloween and for a few days after, and then sort of forgot about it. We were ok with that. A few nights of binging on candy isn’t going to make any kind of lasting impact in a life of otherwise reasonably healthy eating habits.
The elementary school years.
Last Halloween when our kids were 6 and just shy of 4 years old, our trick-or-treat haul suddenly exploded. The kids had the stamina to expand their trick-or-treating territory to a larger area and we moved to a new neighborhood that has some lovely, generous neighbors when it comes to handing out Halloween candy. The result was that we easily netted us ten pounds of candy or more. Our kids’ longer memories also meant that they were no longer forgetting about the candy within a few days.
At this point many parents start restricting Halloween candy to X pieces per day, per kid. I’ve always been uncomfortable with arbitrary rules like that. If three pieces of candy are ok, why not four? I don’t have a good answer for that. My goal as a parent has never been to get my kids to comply with arbitrary rules. Instead, my goal is to guide them into making healthy choices on their own. Even as an adult, I sometimes find it hard to make healthy choices if a bag filled with ten pounds of candy is staring me in the face all day. So for this year, we are going to try something new.
Enter the Switch Witch.
This year we are embracing the Switch Witch for the first time. I wasn’t sure how the idea would go over with my kids, so about a month ago I ran it by them. I asked whether they’d heard of the Switch Witch. They hadn’t. I explained that she’s a witch who comes by on Halloween night after everyone is asleep, collects the candy, and replaces it with a new toy. They were intrigued. Their immediate first question was, “is she real?” I explained that she was not. With that question out of the way, they immediately suspended their disbelief again. They wondered aloud and came up with elaborate scenarios for what the witch does with the candy (“does she make a stew?”), how we tell her what we want (“can we text her?”), and what she does for a living when she’s off duty the rest of the year (“does she work on a computer?”).
In the end, we decided together that we were going to invite the switch witch to our house to do her switching magic. The candy will go to a collection program for troops abroad who can use the candy better than we can. We have a few more days to figure out exactly what the switch witch will bring (I have it on good authority that she shops online with free two-day shipping), but I’m optimistic that this will be our happiest and healthiest Halloween yet.
How do you handle Halloween candy in your family? I’d love to hear your strategy in the comments.