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How are parents handling Halloween in 2020?

The pandemic makes trick-or-treating a challenge. These real-life tips make it less hard.

Adam Weinberg, Brand Director at Haven Life, still isn’t sure how his 4- and 6-year-old children will celebrate Halloween this year — but he’s pretty sure it won’t look like previous celebrations. “Usually we get together with friends in the neighborhood and walk around and trick-or-treat,” explains Weinberg’s wife, Kathy. “We end up at the grandparents’ house, and we order food and hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.

These are the kinds of activities that the Centers for Disease Control has labeled higher risk, or more likely to spread the virus that causes COVID-19. Traditional trick-or-treating (where children go from door to door, interacting directly with neighbors) is on the higher-risk list, as are trunk-or-treats, haunted houses and crowded costume parties.

So what will Halloween 2020 look like? The CDC lists several lower-risk Halloween alternatives, from “admiring Halloween decorations from a distance” to “having a virtual Halloween costume contest.” And what are families actually planning to do this Halloween if they can’t go to a haunted house or a Halloween party? While some parents may still be deciding on how they’ll create a safe Halloween celebration for their children, others have already come up with plans that will allow them to celebrate at home, join up with their quarantine pods or — in some cases — try to trick-or-treat as safely as possible.

Here’s what we learned when we asked parents how they were planning to handle Halloween in 2020.

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Make trick-or-treating safer

Even though the CDC has labeled trick-or-treating as “higher risk,” some families are going ahead with the tradition — and attempting to make it as safe as possible. “I have two daughters and my husband and I decided that they’re going trick-or-treating with a mask on, despite the CDC’s guidance,” says Julie Revelant, a content marketer and the founder of JulieRevelant.com. “I have GAD [generalized anxiety disorder] so I may actually wash the Halloween candy before they eat it.”

Michelle Meredith of Bright Color Mom is also planning on letting her kids trick-or-treat. “I don’t expect our neighbors to wear masks, but my children will be, and I’ll have hand sanitizer in my pocket along with an eagle eye for discerning if they’ve touched any candy they’re given.” After they get home, Meredith will give her children a stash of candy to eat immediately while allowing their trick-or-treat haul to sit, untouched, for 48 hours.

If you’re trying to decide whether to allow your children to trick-or-treat this year, be aware that the risks might outweigh the benefits. “I normally very much believe in sending the kids out to ring bells, talk to strangers, carry their own bags and deal with any scariness,” explains Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement and president of Let Grow, a non-profit promoting childhood independence. “In a pandemic, traditional trick-or-treating just doesn’t make a lot of sense — neither opening the door and interacting with lots of kids, nor knocking on doors and interacting with a lot of adults.”

Set up a scavenger hunt

If you want your children to get the benefits of interacting with the larger world outside of their house without the risks of interacting directly with neighbors and crowds, consider setting up a scavenger hunt to get them into the Halloween spirit. “Let the kids go outside, let them dress up, let them go around the neighborhood,” Skenazy suggests. “But instead of trick-or-treating, maybe have them do some kind of scavenger hunt — find an acorn, a piece of litter, a red leaf — and make the reward be candy.”

The CDC includes outdoor Halloween scavenger hunts as a lower-risk alternative to trick-or-treating, as long as your children are well-distanced from other families. If you aren’t able to create a socially distanced scavenger hunt outdoors, you could also have your children hunt for items inside your own home. That’s also on the CDC’s lower-risk list — and it’s what John and Annie Puskar are planning for their family. “My older son is really into the movie The Jungle Book, so he is dressing up as Mowgli, mom as Bagheera, my other son as Ka and me as Baloo,” John Puskar told us. “We plan to decorate the living room in a jungle theme and do a similarly themed scavenger hunt that will lead him to candy and treats.”

Celebrate with your quarantine pod

Carole Jones of My Kitchen Escapades is one of many parents who have joined with other families to form quarantine pods. “Over the past few months, we have developed what we consider a circle of trust for our children, which includes a small number of friends who are following the same safety measures as our family.”

This year, these families will be celebrating Halloween pod-style. “We will be doing our own trick-or-treating stations and activities in our backyard so the kids can stay safe while still enjoying the holiday. We will not be going door-to-door or handing out candy to our community.”

Amy Motroni, founder of The Postpartum Party, is planning similar festivities with the families in her trusted circle. “We will have cupcakes for the kids to decorate, a costume contest, a Halloween movie on in the background, and a candy scavenger hunt!” Motroni says that everyone in her pod is really looking forward to the festivities. “It’s nice to have something on the calendar that we can control instead of taking the wait and see approach.”

The CDC does not include quarantine pod celebrations in its lists of lower risk, moderate risk or higher risk Halloween activities, though it does offer this advice: “Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings.”

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Have Halloween fun at home

For some families, the plan is to try for an enjoyable and memorable Halloween celebration without leaving the house. “Instead of trick-or-treating, I’m giving my son the rare privilege of eating as much junk food and dessert at home as he wants,” says Chris Cade, founder of The Miracles Store.

Style coach Kim Hancher is creating Halloween memories by giving her 11-year-old twin daughters the opportunity to scare themselves silly. “We will be celebrating Halloween this year by dressing up, eating candy, and popcorn and watching a scary movie. They’ve never seen a scary movie before.”

Lauren O’Connor, a registered dietitian who runs Nutri Savvy Health, also has twin tweens — and this year, she’s letting them plan their family’s safer-at-home celebration to get into the Halloween spirit. “I didn’t have to work too hard to manage our Halloween festivities during this pandemic. In fact, my girls took the lead. They are decorating face masks and we’ll be baking some special treats. As far as trick-or-treating, we chose to avoid it entirely. Why take the risk when you can have this much fun at home?”

The CDC considers these kinds of at-home activities lower risk, and recommends decorating your home, carving a pumpkin, watching Halloween movies (scary or otherwise) and, as mentioned earlier, holding a virtual costume contest with friends and relatives.

“As far as trick-or-treating, we chose to avoid it entirely. Why take the risk when you can have this much fun at home?”

—Lauren O’Connor, parent and registered dietitian

Should you hand out candy this year?

Halloween isn’t just about taking your kids out trick-or-treating. For many families, it’s also about handing out candy to everyone else in the neighborhood. However, some parents are hesitant to distribute fun-size treats face-to-face, and are coming up with alternative ways of sharing the candy supply — such as the viral candy chute created by a Cincinnati dad.

“Because my son and I live in a multi-generational household with elders who have underlying conditions, we will be maintaining a very strict quarantine for Halloween this year. Instead of handing candy out, we’ll leave a ‘Please Help Yourself’ bowl for any kids who come by,” explains Cade.

Revelant is planning something similar. “For trick or treaters, I will probably pull together individual treat bags and leave them outside for kids to grab.”

The CDC labels this “one-way trick-or-treating,” and says it’s a moderate risk activity while offering the following advice: “If you are preparing goodie bags, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing the bags.”

That said, it’s worth noting that many parents may not allow their children to eat the candy you give them — so this might not be the year to pass around full-size candy bars or expensive treats. “Even if we did some sort of limited trick-or-treating, I don’t think we would allow the kids to eat the candy they got at other people’s houses,” Weinberg told us. “We would give our kids sealed candy that we purchased from the store.”

Focus on what your family can do, not on what it can’t do

Weinberg and his wife — like many parents — are still thinking about how they’re going to celebrate Halloween in the middle of a pandemic. While they weigh the risks and rewards, they’re using this time to focus their children’s expectations on the aspects of the holiday that are definitely going to happen.

“We’re keeping it positive, talking about what costumes do you want to get and who do you want to be,” Kathy said. “We definitely want our kids to pick out a costume and get dressed up,” Adam said. “But how the trick-or-treating will manifest itself is still to be seen.”

Whether you’ve already come up with your alternative Halloween party celebrations, or whether you’re still deciding how you’re going to handle the Halloween season this year, keep the focus on all of the fun things your family is going to do together — not on the stuff your kids might be missing out on. Let your children participate in as much of the planning as possible, given their ages and their interests; younger children might be able to choose who they want to be for Halloween, and older children might be able to plan the Halloween menu or pick the scary film. If one of your Halloween traditions involves showing off costumes to friends and relatives, plan some time to connect over FaceTime or Zoom.

Here’s one final tip, given that Halloween is such a candy-oriented holiday: If you’re one of the many parents who plans on giving their children candy this year (instead of letting your children eat the candy they collect while trick-or-treating), make sure they get plenty of their favorite sweets and goodies. This year’s Halloween may have its share of disappointments and adjustments, but disappointing candy should not be one of them — and if you get the candy part right, you might have Halloween in the bag, as it were.

Or, as Kathy Weinberg put it: “As long as they have treats that they’re excited about that we’re giving them, they’re going to be okay.”

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

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