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Smack Me Down: A First-Timer’s Guide to Trick-or-Treating

By Amalah

trickortreat.JPGI’m breaking format this morning because…da da da DAAA…I’m an idiot who is having trick-or-treating anxiety.

Yes. Trick-or-treating anxiety. My life is…really very sad.

A recap of my life, pre-pathetic-ness: We lived in the city, in a building that did not get trick-or-treaters. We never even bothered to buy candy. We never took Noah out, since every building in the neighborhood relied on buzzers and intercoms and…fine, my point is, I don’t know nothing about no trick-or-treating, and I am afraid we are going to violate some kind of trick-or-treating code or rule and wake up tomorrow morning with a house covered in eggs.

So I’m looking for some guidance on trick-or-treating do’s and don’ts.

1) What are the acceptable trick-or-treating hours? How early is too early, and how late is too late? (Further complicating our night is the fact that Jason and I are going to a party downtown and have a babysitter coming at 7:30 pm.)

2) Is it acceptable to ring doorbells at houses where we don’t actually know the owners? Not so much from an arsenic-in-the-Snickers-bar worry, but more from a rudeness standpoint. We just don’t know that many of our neighbors. I’d love to get to know more people, but is ringing the doorbell and demanding candy that you just KNOW I’m going to steal from my toddler really the best way to do that?

3) Is it acceptable for both of us to take Noah trick-or-treating, or is leaving our house un-visitable during prime candy time some kind of bad trick-or-treating karma?

4) For those of you who have trick-or-treated with a two-year-old, about how long can a toddler tolerate the whole affair? Should we call it a night after…five houses? 10?

5) And on a scale of one to 10, about how hard would you say I am over-thinking this?

Help a newbie out, Alpha Moms!

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • jodifur

    October 31, 2007 at 10:17 am

    okay, well I’m a moron, I left my comment in the wrong post. Sorry, here it is-
    Well, we have the same issue, although no halloween party. But, Michael goes to bed at 7. I think trick or treating starts when it gets dark, around 5:30. You could take him out for an hour. Maybe have Jason do 30 minutes and you do 30 minutes. I wouldn’t leave your house empty, you’ll get egged.

  • Kaelak

    October 31, 2007 at 10:17 am

    You can go out as soon as it gets dark, and stay as long as Noah is having fun. Most parents of young kids will accompany their little munchkin up to the door and help them knock, say trick or treat, and hold out their bag for candy – but you don’t have to dress up. (I would suggest not mentioning that you plan to snarf most of his candy for yourself tho.) One of you should stay home to give candy out to the trick or treaters that come to your house, and one of you should take Noah around. It is totally acceptible for you and Noah to go up to houses of people you don’t know – and you won’t know most of the trick or treaters you’ll get at your house.
    I’d say trick or treating hours are between 6-6:30ish and 9pm at the latest.
    Have fun!

  • Imanitsud

    October 31, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Where we live (Indiana), there are established “trick or treating hours” per city. Ours tonight are 6 to 8. And ditto to the first two commenters: one stays home and hands out candy, one goes with Noah; stay out as long as he can handle it (I’d guess between 5 and 10 houses — really depends on the kid); and the whole point of trick-or-treating is strangers asking for candy. It IS a great way to get to know your neighbors. Be prepared to chat them up or find a graceful way to disengage.

  • 2shews

    October 31, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Yes, you are totally overthinking it. A woman after my own heart. At two, Noah might not really enjoy trick-or-treating with strangers– but folks are right that it’s a great idea to do with your neighbors. No problem with both of you going– depending on your neighborhood you can leave a bowl and an “on your honor” sign. (OMG I SO live in Kansas. Do people do this elsewhere?!?) My husband and I both take the kids to a shindig (because our neighborhood is lame) and we’ve never had a problem with people snarfing our candy. But even if they did, I don’t care, because when it’s gone it’s gone and I don’t care if one kid took it or forty. (Ok, I SO care, but I have to LET GO.)
    Trick or treating is over at your house when you turn off your porch light and your front lights.

  • Theresa

    October 31, 2007 at 10:42 am

    1.) Most places have set times, where we live “trick-or-treating hours are from 6-8.
    2.) Yes! Ring doorbells anywhere, as long as they have their porch light on, and as long as you are comfortable with the house/people/area, etc. It doesn’t matter if they are “strangers” or not, it’s Halloween and they expect to hand out candy to little kids. And 2-yr-olds are the cutest!
    3.) I disagree with the previous commenters, and I say it is perfectly fine for both you and Jason to take Noah trick-or-treating and leave the house empty. If this is his first trick-or-treating experience, you will both want to be there, and there is nothing wrong with leaving the house empty. Just make sure the porch light is off.
    4.) I would let Noah trick-or-treat till its obvious HE has had enough, or till you need to go home, whichever comes first. If he’s scared or doesn’t like the whole thing, you may quit after a house or two…or he may LOVE it and you may knock on 20 doors!
    5.) I don’t think you are overthinking it at all. You are fine!
    Have a fun and safe Halloween!!

  • robin m

    October 31, 2007 at 10:45 am

    (marvels at how cute it is that Amy and Noah are going trick or treating for the first time together)

  • superblondgirl

    October 31, 2007 at 10:49 am

    1) Acceptable is usually right after it starts getting dark, but people usually don’t care if you come earlier with little ones.
    2)Totally acceptable. Just leave a bowl of candy out and hope the first kid doesn’t dump it all in his bag and run. Supposedly leaving a mirror behind the candy bowl stops this, but it’s not proven.
    3) Also totally acceptable. Plus, people love to see dressed-up little kids. If they’ve got their lights on and decorations out, they want you to come (because being stuck with a giant bowl of candy sucks when you end up unable to sleep from sugar shock that night).
    4) Not very long, but mostly I’d judge it by how he is – stop when he starts getting cranky, or when you stop having fun.
    5) Umm… pretty hard. But, whatever. You’re entitled. Mommying = worrying.

  • Alli

    October 31, 2007 at 10:50 am

    When I was the babysitter, my younger kids didn’t really do the whole trick or treating thing. Overwhelming, maybe? (which is why I was there: younger ones stayed with me and the candy, older one went with Mom and Dad around the neighborhood.) But they LOVED dressing up and handing out the candy. Something about being inside their own house made it “safe” but just as fun. So if walking around isn’t his thing, try letting him hand out some candy to visitors. We also had a “some for them, some for you” rule so they were encouraged to actually part with the candy and fill their own buckets at the same time.

  • Mindy

    October 31, 2007 at 10:51 am

    2shews brings up one of my pet peeves – don’t go to houses that have their lights off, even if you know someone is home. They do not want to participate. We live in a neighborhood that is very popular for trick or treating and learned quickly that we had to set a budget for candy or we would go broke. We turn our lights off when the candy is gone. I hate when people (usually teens too old for this stuff)continue to knock on our door when our lights are out. Thank you for letting me vent.

  • erinrae

    October 31, 2007 at 11:10 am

    While things on the ~other~ side of the Potomac might be different, in our neighborhood, the little ones start coming by not long after dark – 6ish I’d guess, and the last of the big kids probably around 9. There aren’t any set times.
    We are in a townhouse community and I love seeing a bunch of the little kids dressed up. It’s also at least an opportunity to say hi to the neighbors too 🙂
    Last year, we left a bowl out when we went out at about 7:30. Needless to say, it was empty when we returned home. The first kid by after we left may have hit paydirt!
    In my experience, one parent trick or treats while the other does candy duty.
    For us, Halloween is also a great training experience for the crazy canine, since she normally freaks about the doorbell, but loves kids…

  • kalisah

    October 31, 2007 at 11:28 am

    dude, didn’t you ever trick-or-treat as a kid?
    Definitely over-thinking. For starters, a 2-y-o might make 5-10 houses. I surely wouldn’t try for more than that.
    Acceptable hours are any time after people get home from work. Young kids always start early. In your case, I’d say from 6 or 6:30 would be fine.
    Technically, one of you should stay home to give out candy, but that early? I think it would be fine for you both to go. Let the babysitter & Noah give out candy later. It will be fun for him to see that other kids are “trick-or-treating” just like he did.
    Lastly, NOT RUDE to ring strangers’ doorbells and ask for candy. That’s the point of the holiday, duh.

  • qwyneth

    October 31, 2007 at 11:29 am

    You are so adorable!
    I always do it the easy way. Take Noah out when you first start seeing the little kids walking around. Expect that to be about 5:30 or 6. No one begrudges the littlest ones anyway, because they’re the most adorable.
    If the front lights are off, don’t knock. They’re either not home, they ran out of candy, or they are choosing not to participate. (Spoilsports.)
    It’s most efficient if one of you takes Noah out and the other stays behind to give out candy…but that’s no fun. Leave a bowl of candy–not all of your candy–on the front porch with or without a sign. If one kid takes it all then at least you still have some to give out when you get back. (We have a great neighborhood that’s full of kids, and lots of houses do that. Our bowl usually has candy in it when I get back, and so do the bowls that we see. I think it’s mostly the big kids that take the candy–the younger kids usually walk around with a parent–and they don’t come out till later.)
    Take Noah in when he seems to get cranky. No big deal. 🙂
    When the babysitter comes, ask if she wants to give out candy or would prefer not to. If not, put the candy outside (or keep it for yourself!) and turn out the front lights (and pumpkins).
    I’ve never known anyone to get egged, though your pumpkins may get kicked or thrown. Don’t worry about it, honestly.
    Oh, and HAVE FUN!

  • mary ann

    October 31, 2007 at 11:39 am

    I’ve always seen set trick-or-treat hours, when I was a kid in Kentucky and here in Arizona. The city should have that on their website, or you can call and ask.
    We only trick-or-treated during daylight in the suburb where I grew up, so we only went to houses where the heavy door was open or someone was sitting on the front porch.

  • ethansmomma

    October 31, 2007 at 11:46 am

    In my neighborhood the little kids (under 5) usually start before it gets dark (around 5:30 or so). We leave the front porch light on until around 8:30 or until the candy runs out. You only trick or treat at the houses that have porch lights on. Thats how you know they are participating. Typically one parent takes the child and the other stays and does candy or both can take the child and leave a bowl of candy out. With Noah being so small I would take him early before the rush of big kids and hit as many houses as you can until he (or you) gets cranky. You will do fine. There is no “Wrong” way to do Halloween. Just have fun! We want lots and lot of pictures.

  • Stephanie

    October 31, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    I think 6-8 is pretty standard, although you may have some kids arrive earlier than that, so make sure you do not put on your outside light until you are ready to hand out candy. Also, make sure to turn off the outside light as soon as you run out (or if your sitter doesn’t want to hand out candy).
    Since it’s Noah’s first time trick-or-treating, I’d say it is totally acceptable for both you and Jason to go out. Maybe all three of you can head out on the early side and then one or all of you come back after a few houses or so. I think as long as someone is giving out by candy around 6:30 or so, you won’t have to worry about egging or being considered a Halloween grinch. Or maybe you could see if your babysitter is willing to come by and hand out some candy early? Noah may also get a kick out of handing out the candy to the trick-or-treaters himself, even if you come back early.
    Yes, go up to strangers’ houses! You may even be able to use it as a way to get to know your neighbors. I’ve known few-to-no kids in any of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in since I’ve moved to the DC area, but I love handing out candy.

  • lizneust

    October 31, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    I’ve got a nearly 2 and nearly 4 y.o. girls. I like to get them out around 5:30/6:00-ish because the littler one gets scared of the dark. MY rule of thumb is that we have to hit the houses of people we know first (about 5) and then I play it by ear. Last year 10 houses was plenty, but the year before, my then 2yo wanted to keep going, and so we did.
    Also, this is a *great* way to meet the neighbors. People love to see little kids in costume and if you don’t take that candy, they’ll just end up eating it and getting fat. You’re doing them a favor, really.
    Have fun!

  • Emma

    October 31, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    I think it is so cute and refreshing that you actually are concerned about the “rules!” Halloween is a perfect opportunity to reinforce manners with kids, especially saying “thank you” when they get candy. I see so many parents just letting their little ones run amok these days (no manners, littering, etc.)that it’s nice to see polite trick-or-treaters…and they always get more candy at my house!

  • 1peanut

    October 31, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Hi amalah. This is my very first comment here. yay me. Anyway, here goes-
    1. he’s little, if you take him out from about 5:30-6:00ish that should be plenty of time. Or 5-10 houses whichever comes first, depending on how long you stand talkin to your new neighbors.
    OR you could stop after about 3 houses, once he’s had a couple people put stuffs in his bucket. Yeah, 3 people should do it. So I’ve heard. Cause i never did that, or anything.
    2. Um, first I have a question for you- What kind of friends/neighbors do you have? Cause mine are all cheap, so all good scarfable candy comes from the strangers.
    3. Depends, do you trust the neighborhood kids not to dump all of the candy in their basket and run? Do you care? If the answers were no and yes then someone needs to stay home and pass out the goods.
    OR! You could leave an empty bucket on your porch/stoop with a sign taped to the wall that says “Sorry kids, if there’s no candy left in the bucket someone took it all” that way they’re not mad at you for not being there to give it to them. heh.
    again, so I’ve heard.
    4. guess I lumped this in with #1.
    5. Why are you still thinking about this? don’t you have a party to go to?

  • AmyM

    October 31, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    On a scale of 1-10, I’d say your over-thinking rates at a 19.825.
    Best time to go is dusk-ish. Before it gets dark. If you guys have a party at 7:30, take Noah out somewhere around 5:30-6. That should be a great time.
    No, it isn’t rude to go to houses of people you don’t know. They’re expecting it.
    Toddlers are different… some toddlers hate going to strangers houses (not a bad thing!) so they might be done after a house or two. Others might be able to handle it longer.
    Yes, it’s fine to leave your house unoccupied. Just make sure your porch light is off, or people take that as a sign that you are home and handing out candy.

  • Peggasus

    October 31, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    In our old neighborhood, the dads would walk around with the littlest ones with a beer (disguised in cups, of course). At some houses there would be a ‘treat’ for them, too. Or you could trade off.
    When my boys got older and could go by themselves, I always had a friend come over, and WE would be the ones enjoying the cocktails and the cute kids (and yes, we all love the teeniest ones the best).
    Most towns have designated hours. And like others have said, turn the light off when the time is over or you run out. This year, instead of 200+, I will probably have zero, because we live 2 miles outside of DinkyTown, on a street with only four houses, and we currently have no street to speak of (no, really, it’s all torn up). I’ll probably have a small bowl anyway, for the neighbor’s grandkids if they show. Those kids will SCORE: full-size candy bars!

  • Amy Corbett Storch

    October 31, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for all the tips, y’all. I was planning to just wing it (read: peek out the window and wait until I see other people out and then join in). But it’s good to read what everybody else does too.
    And actually, good point, kalisah — I came from a very, very religious household. Halloween was generally off-limits as being “pagan” or whatever. I trick-or-treated as a very tiny kid with my siblings, but I don’t really remember much about it. Then there was the whole poison-candy scare and we either went to church parties or nothing at all.

  • mwas

    October 31, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Everyone’s pretty much given all the tips I had in mind, except Imanitsud said something about being prepared to have a graceful way to disengage from chatty neighbors. A 2 year old is the best reason to cut conversations short, “oh we’d better get going before he runs out of steam.” etc.
    Have fun – can’t wait to hear all about it!

  • mdvelazquez

    October 31, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    I don’t trick or treat, but I have a few suggestions:
    You can ring the bell/knock if there is a porch light on or if the house is decorated and seems occupied.
    Sunset is generally the start time in NYC and generally ends by 9:00 p.m.
    If Jason isn’t home when you leave, I would turn off your porch light and if you decorated, I would also turn off the interior lights.
    Have lots of fun.

  • lmmom

    October 31, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Only a little overthinking. When my middle kid was 2-1/2, he came down with chicken pox about 2 days before Halloween, but we were already deep into costume anticipation, so Dad took the older one out and pox-boy and I sat in the back of the house with the porch light out. Around 8:30, I took him out in full costume and we just walked up and down the street for 10 minutes. This was fine because he didn’t come into contact with other kids and had no idea what was really supposed to happen!
    Your normal common sense will prevail, Amalah.

  • ladybug

    October 31, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Number 1 rule in my house: Everyone must eat dinner (pizza) and use the toilet BEFORE going out. NO EXCEPTIONS! Yes, even DD at almost 23 months.
    1) The younger the kid…the earlier, the better. I think daylight savings time was changed so kids could go out when it’s light out to help drivers see them. You don’t need to wait until dark unless all your neighbors are still not home from work.
    2) Absolutely, ring every doorbell in homes that are lit. Porch light, inside lights, car in drive. Ring that bell!
    3) We don’t have this problem. Hubbie wants no part of trick-or-treating (or trick-or-treaters, but I make him swear under penalty of his car getting egged).
    4) I have a nine year old and it wouldn’t be fair to him to hit 5-10 houses and call it a night. That said, when he was two I think we hit two, maybe three houses, but we were living in a very dark, very rural area. Take the stroller!
    5) Follow your heart!
    Oh, and once your little monkey figures out that he’s scoring candy you won’t have any trouble getting him to continue!
    This is late, sorry, I was out with the kids at their school/daycare parades/parties.

  • Becky

    November 1, 2007 at 12:28 am

    Please tell me I’m not the only one who does candy checks before the kids can eat anything.

  • ladybug

    November 1, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Becky, a candy check is a must! How closely you check it depends on your neighborhood and how well you know your neighbors.