For many children, Halloween is the most exciting night of the year. Imagine what it means to kids today, who are raised to be cautious about strangers: On this magical night, not only can they accept candy from strangers, they can ask them for it!
It is natural to want our kids to enjoy the same freedom we had. But these days, it's better to bend your candy rules for a night than to set aside personal safety practices. Obeying a few safety rules is a condition of the privilege of trick or treating without adult supervision.
Keeping kids safe on Halloween
Here are some guidelines for grade- and middle-school children who will be going out on their own:
1. Prior to Halloween, make some rules and get your child's commitment to follow them.
If you aren't sure your children will follow these rules, you can set up check points by phone. Give your children a cell phone and let them know you will be checking in at agreed-upon intervals.
Another alternative if you are uneasy about your children going out unsupervised is to postpone the privilege another year. Give them more time to develop responsible behavior. Tell them you will walk behind them or across the street and will be discreet.
2. Make sure they can handle whatever or whomever they encounter
Before you decide it's okay to let your kids go out on their own, have some "What if?" discussions to find out if they are willing and able to make safe decisions when unsupervised.
People are friendlier on Halloween than at other times, but the same rules about strangers apply. Tell your kids that, if anyone acts too friendly or familiar -- with offers of candy or a ride to a "really cool house that has the best treats in town" -- or asks where they live, they need to get away and tell an adult that someone is bothering them. Tell them they can ask for help at any house that is welcoming trick-or-treaters.
3. Send your child out with at least two buddies
Older kids like to travel in packs on Halloween night. Your job is to find out who is in the pack before you say yes. You have some say in your child's choices.
For example, you have the right and responsibility to veto a trick-or-treat partner who has had run-ins with the police on Halloween, has bullied younger children or has vandalized homes. You need to know if your child is with a group who will egg each other on -- or will egg peoples' houses.
Also, the later it gets, the more dares kids take. Set a curfew to reduce the risk of your child's involvement in behavior that may land him in trouble.
Finally, as you review the rules for Halloween night, remember this: Share useful safety tips in a helpful but not fearful way. The ghosts and witches walking down the sidewalk are scary enough.