There’s a good bet that last time you donned a Halloween costume (perhaps a cringe-worthy “sexy pirate” or maybe the good ol cat ears and tail grabbed en route to a party) there were no baby strollers, plastic pumpkin pails, or even trick-or-treating involved. But now that you’re a parent, it’s time to take Halloween back to the kid-friendly basics. Here, the ultimate trick-or-treat guide for parents—everything you need to know about having a fun and safe Halloween with your kiddo.

What’s the right age to start trick-or-treating?

Generally speaking, 3 to 4 years old is often a great age to start the trick-or-treating tradition. Younger children can become frightened by all the scary masks on Halloween night—plus, their trick-or-treat bucket will be brimming with choking hazards. That said, dressing your baby or toddler up and visiting a few friendly neighbors or heading to a Halloween party or parade is perfect for any age.

What time does trick-or-treating start?

Go early and keep it short! For toddlers and young children, that means heading out as early as 4:30pm or 5:30pm—and wrapping the festivities up within an hour or so. Each neighborhood is different, of course, so it’s always wise to check in with seasoned local parents. Ideally, you want to get in and out before the streets are crowded with older revelers and scary costumes.

(By the way, older elementary-age children often want to set out at sunset and power through till 8pm or 9pm for max candy.)

What’s the best Halloween costume for toddlers?

There is no one “best” Halloween costume for babies, toddlers, or young children. But there are a few key elements that make a Halloween costume kid-friendly, including:

  • Skip any costume made from itchy fabric.

  • Avoid Halloween costumes and masks that restrict your child’s movement, breathing, or vision.

  • Avoid elaborate headpieces.

  • Look for a “flame resistant” label on your kiddo’s costume.

  • Feel free to let your child hold their sword or cane or stick when you’re taking Halloween pictures but leave these (or any) potentially dangerous Halloween accessories home when trick-or-treating.

  • Choose trick-or-treat costume accessories made of soft foam.

  • Seek costumes that are bright and reflective. (You can always add some reflective tape to your bub’s costume and trick-or-treat pail.)

  • Consider adding a glow stick or flashlight to your kiddo’s getup so they’re easier to see

  • Make sure that shoes are comfy and fit well, and that costumes are short enough that your kiddo won’t trip over it.

For Halloween costume inspiration, check out the best Halloween costume ideas for Baby’s first holiday, the best toddler Halloween costumes, and the best bump-friendly Halloween costume ideas!

What if my child won’t wear their costume?

Don’t fret! Halloween is supposed to be fun. So, if your toddler doesn’t want to dress up as, say, Spiderman, don’t pressure them. Think of the discarded superhero costume as a fab addition to your dress-up bin. At the same time, it’s wise to have a Plan B costume at the ready. (Young children change their minds…a lot!) The best alternative Halloween costumes are uncomplicated and cheap. Think along the lines of items that can be used for dress-up (bunny ears, chef’s hat, tutu, pirate patch), costumes culled from everyday items (baseball player, farmer, cowboy), or just get some pajamas that can double as a Halloween costume (skeleton feeties!).

And if your bub’s still not having it, you can always stay home and give out candy to trick-or-treaters instead. That way, your kiddo can still enjoy the holiday, but in a way that makes them comfortable.

Is Halloween makeup safe for children?

Halloween face paint and makeup can be a fun and safe alternative to masks, but it’s recommended to only use non-toxic Halloween makeup. Since products marketed to children can still contain toxic ingredients and cause skin irritation, it’s important to shop smart. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, here’s what to avoid and how to use makeup safely:

  • Read labels. If the ingredients aren’t in English, don’t buy it! There’s a chance that the product is illegal or potentially dangerous.

  • Avoid heavy metals. Ingredients like arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead—which are especially toxic to children in large amounts—can all land in Halloween makeup and need to be avoided.

  • Know the alternative names. Sometimes toxic ingredients on ingredient labels are in disguise! For instance, mercury might be called mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric or mercurio. And lead might be labeled kohl, kajal, or surma.

  • Sidestep these natural ingredients. Halloween makeup may contain rubber (latex), cobalt, and nickel, which have been known to cause skin irritation.

  • Keep your kiddo’s eyes safe. If the label on your Halloween makeup reads “not for use near eyes,” take heed! The FDA warns that only eight fluorescent colors are approved for cosmetics, and none are allowed for use near the eyes.

  • Get glow-in-the-dark smart: Luminescent zinc sulfide, which has a whitish-yellowish-greenish glow, is the only glow-in-the-dark color approved for once-in-a-while cosmetic use and should never be used near your eyes.

  • Do a test run. To check for allergic reactions, dab a small amount of the Halloween makeup on your child’s arm a few days before Halloween.

  • Remove promptly. To help sidestep skin irritation, take your child’s makeup off soon after you return home from trick-or-treating.

How do children with food allergies trick-or-treat?

Carefully! There are a few things you can do to keep your bub safe this Halloween, such as…

  • Implement a “no eating while trick-or-treating” rule. This allows you time to review all your kiddo’s goodies before the chow-down begins. (Consider keeping a few safe treats in your pocket in case your kiddo gets impatient.)

  • Look for teal pumpkins. If you spy a teal pumpkin on a neighbor’s doorstep that means they’re distributing non-food treats that are safe for all trick-or-treaters.

  • No label? Don’t eat it. Any candy or treat that doesn’t have an ingredient label has to be tossed or donated. That goes for homemade items, too.

  • Seed safe goody bags with neighbors. If you have the time and inclination, consider putting together some safe goody bags to distribute to key neighbors ahead of Halloween. This way, they can hand safe treats to your tot on the big day.

  • Be prepared. As scary as the notion is, it’s important to always have an epinephrine auto-injector on you, if prescribed for your child.

  • Keep alternatives at the ready. When you’re home and reviewing the haul, have some safe swap options on hand to replace any candy that’s unsafe.

How do I check Halloween candy for safety?

If you’ve got a kiddo with food allergies, you already know to read labels and toss, donate, or trade any treats that could cause an allergic reaction. But there’s more to Halloween candy safety than allergies. Here are some key stay-safe tips to keep in mind when trick-or-treating:

  • Choking hazards. Babies and toddlers under the age of 4 should not have any hard candy, sticky candy, popcorn, pumpkin seeds, gum, gummy candies, caramel apples, anything with whole nuts, and small candies, like jellybeans. Beyond treats, candy wrappers, stickers, small toys, and temporary tattoos can be a choking risk, as well.

  • Homemade items. While thoughtful, homemade Halloween treats and baked goods should be tossed, unless you know the person who gave it to your child well.

  •  Packaging. While candy tampering is very rare, it’s always a good idea to inspect Halloween treats for signs that something is amiss, like missing wrappers, pin holes or tears in the wrapper, or sweets with an unusual appearance or discoloration. Throw away anything that appears suspicious.

How do I prepare my toddler for Halloween?

While Halloween can be loads of fun and jam-packed with treats, it can also be overwhelming and even scary for little ones. To help set your bub up for an amazing Halloween, follow these tips.

  • Talk about scary stuff. Between the eerie masks, the creepy decorations, going to strangers’ homes, and wandering after dark…trick-or-treating can be pretty frightening to a little one! To help skirt day-of scaries, consider playing with spooky Halloween masks at home or exploring them together at the store. Talk about how people will be wearing these on Halloween, but that it’s the same person underneath. It’s also a good idea to tell your kiddo that they may see some “fake ouchies,” but that there’s nothing to worry about because it’s all pretend.

  • Practice! Do a Halloween dress rehearsal at home, complete with a costume try-on, practice face painting, and pretend trick-or-treating. Rehearse saying “trick or treat” and “thank you.” (Learn some sneaky ways to teach your tot manners.)

  • Eat first. No matter what time you plan on trick-or-treating, make sure your bub eats a healthy and filling dinner (or big snack) before you hit the streets.

  • Have a candy chat. Share with your kiddo that they are only allowed to take one piece of candy per house unless they’re specifically told to take more.

How do I manage all the Halloween candy?

The whole purpose of trick-or-treating is to stockpile candy, right? So, it’s smart to have a candy consumption plan before your tot starts gathering their goodies. Here are some “tricks” for you to handle all the “treats”:

  • Tell your tot how many pieces of candy they can eat on Halloween—and when.

  • Have a no-candy-till-home rule. This way, you can review everything for safety and allergies before they dig in.

  • Share with your child how many pieces of candy they can have each day throughout the next week or so. And keep your treat rules realistic and consistent.

  • Sort the loot! Work with your tot to separate their goodies into three piles: “no-nos” (choking hazards or allergies), “love ’ems” (the best of the best), and “ho-hums” (the candy that’s just okay). Try trading the ho-hums for non-food treats or donating the stash. This’ll help teach your child to eat what they like, not just what’s there.

  •  Incorporate Halloween candy into homemade cookies and cakes—and then share your baked goods with friends, family, and colleagues.

What are some trick-or-treating alternatives?

Truth is, your kiddo might not want to trick-or-treat, and that’s A-okay! If you or your child wants to celebrate Halloween without door-to-door trick-or-treating, here are some alternative ways to have Halloween fun:

  • Hand out goodies to trick-or-treaters, instead.

  • Find a local trunk-or-treat event. (Here, a group of folks decorate the backs of their cars for Halloween, gather in a safe spot, like a school parking lot, and hand out candy and treats to children.)

  • Host a not-so-scary-movie night (think: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or Monsters, Inc).

  • Have a Halloween costume dinner party and serve up spooky eats.

  • String up a Halloween piñata filled with safe candy and fun trinkets, like temporary tattoos, art supplies, stickers, and more.

  • Enjoy a spooky Halloween storytime with a few of these Halloween books for kids. Amp up the festivities by reading books by flashlight.


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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.