Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love the community aspect of it—everyone opening their doors to their neighbors and sharing food. I love how people, young and old, take the time to play and have fun. I love the spookiness of being out at night and the excitement of never knowing when a ghoul or ghost might jump out at you. I love the creativity that can happen with costumes.

But the reality is the Halloween can also be stressful, especially for parents. Between school parties, neighborhood gatherings, and trick-or-treating, the amount of sugar that comes into our homes is staggering. It can be challenging to navigate the onslaught of candy, cookies, and other treats that are offered.

When my kids were first discovering the joys of candy and the abundance of it at Halloween, my reaction was to come down hard and set strict rules. Guess what? It didn’t go so well. There were negotiations, battles, and misery on both sides. It was exhausting and it dragged on and on.

So then I tried the carefree approach, which led to fewer arguments, but not less stress for me. I found myself in a constant internal battle to keep my mouth shut, which was completely unnatural (what can I say, I have opinions…) and also, totally exhausting.

After exploring lots of different approaches from serious candy restriction, to the “Switch Witch,” to candy buy-back options, I started to come up with a new strategy. It took a few years of tweaking, but in the past two years or so we have found our family’s sweet spot (pun intended) when it comes to Halloween treats.

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Here is what it looks like:

  1. On Halloween evening I make sure that before we leave for trick or treating all bellies are full of nutritious food. This is good for two reasons: one, less chance of a hunger or exhaustion meltdown, and two, and a fuller belly has less room for candy. Usually, I try to make some sort of thematic meal that will be appealing enough that the kids will eat it in the midst of their Halloween excitement. But I try to make sure that it isn’t too labor-intensive because, reality check, getting kids into costumes and out the door is no easy feat, especially on a school night. (Check out links in my bio for some of our simple family favorites.)
  2. During trick or treating all bets are off. The kids can eat as much candy as they want. (Yes, they usually get a stomachache, but I actually think that is an important life lesson and am ok with it.)
  3. The day after Halloween they can again enjoy as much of their candy as they want (I am usually surprised by how controlled they are after surviving the previous night’s stomachaches). This is also when the sorting and trading happens.
  4. After that, their candy is available for their daily treat, should they want it. This means that they can choose to have 2-to-3 pieces of candy for their daily treat or they can select any other option that is available.

This approach has worked well for our family for a couple of reasons. The first is that the expectations are clear which means there is no need for negotiations. (In my experience as a parent, when the rules are clear and consistent, there isn’t as much room for bargaining.) The other reason I think this approach has been such a success is that we aren’t taking their candy away, just helping them to enjoy it in modest portions. This means that there is never a sense of deprivation that can lead to sneaking, binging, or fights. In fact, since implementing this approach a few years ago my kids seem to always eventually lose interest in the candy and there has always been leftover candy in their pumpkins when the next Halloween comes around (something that never happened in my own childhood!).