There comes a point in every child’s life when trick-or-treating with their parents is no longer “cool.” Instead, they want to go out with friends.
As a parent, this moment can be scary and full of unanswered questions: Are they old enough? Can they handle the responsibility? Can I trust them?
Unfortunately, said parenting expert Vanessa Lapointe, the answers to those questions won’t be the same for everyone.
Whether your child is ready to go door-to-door without you will depend on a variety of factors, including your location, their personality type and more.
Here, Lapointe offers some things to consider before approving your child’s first solo adventure.
Factors to consider
The first thing to think about is the size of your neighbourhood and how many people would go out on Halloween.
Now, Lapointe lives in a suburb of Vancouver, where she receives an average of 400 kids at her door on Halloween. “It’s like mayhem.”
Once you’ve given thought to the kind of environment your neighbourhood will present for your child, consider how it could affect your child.
“We have to map that onto, developmentally, where your child is at and what they’re going to have to be able to manage in order for that to be a fun experience for them,” said Lapointe.
“Ultimately, what we need is for kids to be able to be independent and out enjoying Halloween night in the same kind of way.”
Development happens at a different pace for every child, according to Lapointe.
“If you have a kid who’s not quite as mature, they’re not going to be able to manage a particularly chaotic environment really well until closer to 11 or 12 years of age,” she said.
“Are you dropping them off in a neighbourhood unfamiliar to them or are they trick-or-treating around their home neighbourhood? Are there checkpoints along the way if something were to happen? How busy do you expect it to be?”
For Lapointe, it also matters who the child is going to be out with. She has two sons, ages 12 and 15.
“Even for my 15-year-old, sometimes the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ in terms of the activity that he’s requesting independence around depends on who he’s going to be with,” she said.
Independence can be a good thing
Experts say autonomy, even experienced in small bouts, can be a great way for children to develop confidence in themselves.
“It’s a wonderful thing for kids to be able to face a challenge, rise to the occasion and conquer,” said Lapointe.
“It gives them a boost in terms of self-esteem. We’re really doing right by them to give them those kinds of opportunities.”
Lapointe advocates for a “ladder up” approach, increasing the amount of independence your child is allowed over time.
This can play into what happens next Halloween, when your child asks to go trick-or-treating alone again.
“You don’t have to sink or swim.”
Parenting expert Caron Irwin agrees — you should be preparing your child slowly over time, if trick-or-treating without you is something they’re set on doing.
“If they haven’t had any experience doing anything independently, like walking to a friend’s house to play or walking to school … I’m not sure that Halloween would be a great first sort of foray,” she said.
“Previous experiences really help signal whether your kid has the skills and the strategies to manage and cope with the environment.”
As an added bonus, Irwin says promising your child small moments of autonomy can give them something to strive towards in all the other months of the year.
“They would have to earn that privilege by representing that they have the respect, understanding and maturity to understand and uphold the family rules,” said Irwin.
How to prepare your child for trick-or-treating alone
It’s important to make your child aware of potential danger, but sometimes, this can paralyze them with fear.
Lapointe knows the double-edged sword all too well. “We’re giving our kids all of our anxieties. We’re the ones that wire that into them,” she said.
“As a parent, think about how to not be fear-based in the way you share that kind of information with your children.”
When speaking to your kids about potential danger, Irwin recommends using the term “tricky people.”
The term gives you a chance to explain that there are “people in the world who have different behaviours, say things and will respond in different ways to children or people who are vulnerable,” said Irwin.
This will make it easy for your child to identify “tricky people” when you’re not around, said Irwin.
Lapointe focuses on empowerment.
“Give them the idea that the world we’re living in is big and exciting and okay to be adventuring around in, and then have your conversation flow from that kind of energy rather than … from this fear-based, scary kind of place,” she said.
“Give them the road map, let them know what the rules are, but you don’t have to load them with fear.”