When it comes to their child’s safety, parents lay the ground rules early: no wandering the neighborhood unsupervised, no lurking around on other people’s property, and absolutely no taking candy from strangers. But tonight, there’s something spooky in the air. Could it be that witches and warlocks are hiding in the bushes, and ghosties are risen from their graves? Or that kids across the nation will be out after dark, knocking on strangers’ doors and cramming candy by the pillowcase-full?

Scary as it may sound, keep in mind that the Halloween heebie-jeebies have always given parents pause. “There’s a fair amount of hysteria that comes along with Halloween,” says Paula Statman, M.S.W., author of Raising Careful, Confident Kids in a Crazy World and founder of KidWISE Institute. But, though the specter of scary strangers, tampered-with treats, and kids gone astray can haunt parents , the nostalgia for a simpler time can make them relax the rules. “It’s very tempting to bend personal safety rules for children,”  says Statman. “It’s a very nostalgic night for parents.” So, what can you do to keep kids safe, without scaring them silly? Simple. “Use the same rules you talk about the rest of the year,” advises Statman. And because Halloween presents lots of opportunities for kids to use poor judgment, it also gives parents the chance to teach important lessons about responsibility and safety. Here are Paula Statman’s tips to keep Halloween fun and safe.

  • Have an agreed upon route. Plan a trick-or-treating course that takes your child through well-lit, heavily populated areas of the neighborhood. That way, if you need to find her in a hurry, you’ll know where to start.
  • Have your ballerina or firefighter carry a cell-phone, and check in with them at regular intervals. This gives them freedom as well as security: if they see an awesome haunted house up the hill, have them call and let you know they’re deviating from the route.
  • Have “what if?” conversations with your child. What would you do if someone bigger and older took your candy? What would you do if someone dared you to egg a house, or to smash a jack-o’-lantern? By preparing them for every eventuality, you’re giving yourself and your child some peace of mind.
  • When trick-or-treating, tell your child to accept candy only when the door is open, and to never go inside someone’s house, except in an emergency. This counts for neighbors, older brothers of friends, and anyone else your child might encounter, as well as “strangers.”
  • Wait until getting home to eat candy. Treats should come in individually wrapped packages, and parents should raise a red flag if anything comes home unwrapped. Encourage your child to spread his loot out on the floor, and sort through it together. That way, parents can swap out items, or bargain for a share of the sugary stash.

There’s a fair amount of fright that goes into Halloween, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare for parents. By staying true to everyday rules, and working with your child to develop new ones, Halloween can go back to being a once-yearly night of uncomplicated fun, for kids and parents alike.