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Is Your Kid Too Old for Trick-or-Treat?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


It’s a sad thing that by the time a child finally figures out how to go trick-or-treating effectively – when he’s learned where the houses with the “best” candy are, what the most efficient route is around the neighborhood, and when he’s old enough to go out with just his friends, no adults, in the dark, for hours – by the time a child is really good at trick-or-treating, he’s really too old to do it.

Trick-or-treating is for little kids. It’s for miniature Batmans and Cinderellas. It’s not for full-sized ones.

But older kids are unlikely to notice this for themselves. The pull of a huge candy-haul and the fun of an evening out roaming around blinds them to the fact that they no longer fit the trick-or-treater model. It will be up to you to tell your child she’s too old to go door-to-door on Halloween night.

This moment probably comes at some point during middle school. By the time a child is eleven or twelve, they’ve outgrown “cute” and their version of “scary” is no longer cute either. A scary twelve-year-old may be big enough to be just plain scary… and unwelcome on the doorstep. A princess-y twelve-year-old may be not sweet anymore but instead more like Miss America or a Dallas cheerleader. Sometime in the preteen years, it will be time to redirect Halloween fun.

Here are some ideas:

  • Your older child can dress up and then answer the door at home, handing out the candy.
  • Your older child can take over decorating the outside of your home, then watch for the effect on trick-or-treaters (be careful that your child’s efforts don’t frighten preschoolers away!).
  • Your older child can be the escort for younger siblings. He won’t dress up for this role or take along a candy bag but he’ll find that many homeowners will give him candy even so.
  • Your older child can volunteer to decorate a local community center or to help out during a community Halloween celebration.
  • Your older child can even organize a new Halloween event, like a kids’ parade or pet costume contest.

The key is to not wait until the day before Halloween to tell your child she’s too old to go trick-or-treating. This year might be the year to tell your child it will be her last to dress up and go round begging for candy. Give her time to get used to the idea… if not a whole year, then at least a whole week.

The good news is that Halloween has become more celebratory, even among adults. Your child’s days of dressing up as someone else aren’t ending, they’re shifting. The rituals of childhood change for the preteen child to the rituals of grownups.

Help your child to make the switch.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.