I’m dipping into the Archives to reprint this piece I wrote a few years back on ร‚ย the art of handling Trick-or-Treaters. It’s my take on passing out the goods to all the ghouls and goblins. Enjoy!

Got Candy?

Some of you seem to suffer under the delusion that you have NO control when it comes to handing out candy. That the masses of small children and obvious adults with glandular problems pounding down your door are entitled to harass you. They are not, entitled. They may disagree, but don’t be cowed by tricksters in cheap costumes. “But, but, if I make them angry, they will egg me!” Then, don’t make them angry. Instead, take command of the situation.

I would love it if every child who came to my door was polite and civil. Truth is, only half of them fit that description. The other half are grabby and rude and ridiculously over-aged for the event. So, through the years I’ve honed the whole, “Oh, aren’t you cute!” routine that comes with handing out candy.

First. Never, never let them choose. It’s not their candy. They don’t get to say which one they get or how many. Seriously. These are not YOUR children you don’t have to be democratic in this moment. No, they are guests at your door begging for sugar. And they are darn lucky to get it. So, clutch the bowl against your chest with one hand and with the other hand out the sugar. Do not deviate, not even for cute little princesses in pink.

And here’s the thing with not letting them choose–in most cases, this relieves a great deal of anxiety. My kid has a hard time choosing. And being faced with three options but only being allowed to pick one puts him in a panic. When he was younger he would try to negotiate. Not just because he wanted more candy–because if he’d been offered a piece from just one kind he would have taken it and moved on–but because indecision coupled with greed is almost impossible for small children to navigate. At 10, he won’t negotiate for more, he knows better. But he can stand there, holding up the line while weighing his options. When you consider that half the kids coming to your door are in this indecisive group, you’re doing everybody a favor by taking away the choice and simply choosing for them.

Second. Reward good behavior and creativity. That kid who gets in character, gets more candy. The kid who clearly has a mastery of the word “please” also gets more candy. Why? Because you aren’t the only house on the block that must face these children, and the more reinforcement they get for being polite or using their imaginations the more likely they will continue to do so. But candy is not enough; make sure you reward them with words. Not only will you be reinforcing great behavior, you’ll be providing their parents with future object lesson fodder. Every time a stranger comments on my child’s good behavior, I’m quick make note of it. I tell him how cool it is that he’s using his manners and how proud of him I am. He beams! It means so much to him for people to notice he’s trying. Giving out candy is terrific, but your words will last so much longer.

I can hear the “yes, but” from here. What about the kids who aren’t polite. They’re the ones we have issues with in the first place. Again, handing out the candy and not letting them choose stifles most of the kid aggression. If I find myself surrounded by lots of grabby kids, I just hold the bowl of candy above my head and wait. It’s amazing how still kids will get when the object of their affection is within site, but just out of bounds. Mentally, I’m willing them to “sit!”

And as for those over-aged trick-or-treaters, I deal with it the same way every year. Small children get hand-outs. Older kids have to work for it: I call it, “Let’s sing for your candy.” It works like this.

Ding dong. (that’s my doorbell)

“Trick-or-Treat!” a bevy of obviously 15 year old girls chime.

“Happy Halloween! Wow… you all MUST be over 11!” I say with the sweetest smile. OR I ask, “You’re not 11, are you??”

At this point they know the gig is up and are on the spot. When they confess to their ages and get sheepish I say, “Well, see, here’s the deal. If you’re over the age of 11, you have to sing for your candy. However, if you do, I promise to reward you!” Your tone and presence here is everything. If you issue this as a demand and are creep about it, be prepared to be egged. But, if you can keep your tone light and funny and sorta apologetic, it’s surprising how willing most kids are to accept the premise.

“But, what should we sing??” At this point I will say, I’ve never had a group of kids NOT ask this question. But their tone is usually “oh, dear” not “OH BROTHER.” And watching them set to work figuring out what to sing is half the fun. One year, I got three boys doing The Backstreet Boys… another year a group of girls dressed as the Spice Girls didn’t skip a beat and belted out the first verse and chorus of “Wannabe”.

Once they decide on what to sing… and do, this is the important part: LOAD THEM UP WITH SUGAR. This little gambit will backfire if you don’t reward them. However, if you do, the glee is unmistakable. Not only have they just scored the motherload of sugar, they have had a good time doing it! Typically, I can hear them all the way down the street laughing and carrying on about how much fun that was. And usually, I have at least one group promise to come back the next year prepared to wow me!

As for the adults who are brazen enough to trick-or-treat: they get stickers.

Originally published November 2007