It’s that time of year again. To help your kids brainstorm, choose, and procure their costumes, alter the sleeves, finagle the belt, get the sword, take approximately one bazillion pictures and then…let them go trick-or-treating without you!?
Like it or not, there will come a time when our precious little lions and baby Yodas become blood-soaked Grim Reapers who rival us in height—and they’ll be asking to trick-or-treat without us hovering behind, making sure they said thank you. But how to know if they’re ready? Here are some factors to consider.
Your child’s age (and motivation)
Some parenting experts say age 9 is old enough to trick-or-treat alone, while some don’t recommend it until they’re 13. Four years is a world of difference at the pre-teen stage, though; how to narrow it down? Dr. Rosina McAlpine, CEO of Win Win Parenting told PopSugar, “While there is no one definitive ‘appropriate’ or ‘safe’ age for children to go out trick-or-treating by themselves that applies to all children in all circumstances, many parents consider allowing their children to go on their own…around 10 to 12 years of age.”
New-Jersey based therapist Kimberly Beury LPC notes, “It’s important to check in with your child to see why they want to go trick-or-treating with their friends and assess if this drive is their own or their friends’ (peer pressure).” If it’s more what their friends want than what they want, we may need to help them come up with an excuse to get out of the invite, and make alternate plans.
Is the neighborhood your kids will be trick-or-treating in one long cul-de-sac where you could conceivably squint and see them from a distance? Or is it a network of winding streets that includes a main road they’d have to cross in the dark? Do you know many of the families in the homes around you, and is the neighborhood well-lit, or a black hole until a car comes down the street?
Consider the layout, lighting, visibility, your familiarity with residents, and the number of other kids that will be out in the same location.
Your child’s maturity level (and life experience)
Does your child voluntarily do their homework, consistently follow rules, and rarely get in trouble? A child who has demonstrated a strong commitment to do the right thing may be mature enough to trick-or-treat without adult supervision. Similarly, do they stay home alone for short periods, walk to friends’ houses alone, or ride their bikes short distances for unsupervised group outings?
“Markers of maturity may be as simple as good decision-making around their peers and the ability to follow general safety guidelines, i.e. crossing the street at night,” Beury adds.
Who they’re going with
As with much of what happens during the (pre-)teen years, one must ask the almighty question: Who else is going to be there? (Did you just have flashbacks to your parents asking you that? Because I sure did.) Do you know the other kids they’re planning to trick-or-treat with—and are they responsible, or on the mischievous side? Will there be any older kids in the mix who could lead them into, er, questionable activities that are optimally executed under the cover of night with no parental supervision? Pay attention to your gut feeling if the answers to any of these questions give you pause.
Set ground rules
If you decide your not-so-little-one is ready to trick-or-treat with friends, be sure to have a detailed discussion about how to handle various scenarios from a safety perspective. Review ground rules such as curfew, geographic parameters, using the buddy system, and establishing a home base to return to if anyone gets lost (and of course, let them know you will be tracking them if they have a cell phone or GPS-enabled device). If they have a phone, set a check-in time. Ask what they would do if a stranger asked them into their car or home, or if they got separated from the group. Their answers will provide a glimpse into their ability to stay safe if anything goes awry.
And finally, consider yourself
Do you have a hunch this will be the last year your child will tolerate you trailing behind their group, and next year, they’ll be giving you a hard “no” that you’ll have little recourse to argue? If you sense the end of an era is nigh, we implore you to take what could be your final turn around the nabe with pumpkin ale in hand, fun parent crew in tow, and crunchy leaves underfoot while you relive the pure happiness of being a kid on Halloween, just for an hour or two.