Oct. 24, 2013 at 10:50 AM ET
The night of wicked witches, goblins, and wizards has arrived. It's only five o'clock, but your 8-year-old is eager to get first dibs on the neighborhood Halloween candy stash. He's on the porch, commanding you to "Hurry up!" in his deepest monster voice. You turn to your 2-year-old, stick on her fairy wings and dash out the door.
This may be a common scene -- and a necessary one when you have more than one child—but how young is too young to trick-or-treat?
"Typically, kids can distinguish (fantasy from reality) by about age five," says Naomi Reiskind, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Pennsylvania, who says that parents need to prepare little ones if they're going to take them out door-to-door. Family therapist Gayle Peterson, Ph.D., echoes Reiskind's opinion. "Children, especially toddlers, can become very frightened by the distorted faces prevalent on Halloween night."
If you're going to head out, here's how to prepare so your tiny trick-or-treater won't get spooked.
—Familiarize your child for the holiday experience by checking out Halloween books or movies from the library.
—Explain to your child what he or she can expect when you go out. Do this every night for a week prior to Halloween.
—Before going out, offer healthy foods to avoid hunger-fueled meltdowns.
—Start your Halloween events before dark. This can help eliminate the chance that the dark or any oncoming skeletons, will spook your child.
—Bring a flashlight to help eliminate fears. If your child sees something scary, use the flashlight to examine it and show your child.
—Try to take kids to houses that your family knows.
—Steer clear of any homes that have overly-creepy decor—a sign that more haunts may await your child at the front door.
—Ask friends if they'll be in costume when they answer the door, so you can prepare your child by letting know that "Colin's mom will be dressed as a witch with her face painted green!"
—Take your child's age and individual temperament into account. A two-year-old may be frightened by loud noises. A five-year-old may be afraid of the dark, and an eight-year-old may be fearful of monsters.
-- Laugh it off. "If your child gets scared, offer hugs and comfort, but also have an amused reaction so she knows there's nothing to fear. Be sure to talk, laugh and explain Halloween spooks to your child as you encounter them," says Dr. Peterson.
—After a few stops at predetermined homes, neighborhood toddlers can congregate at a nearby house to celebrate Halloween through fun and games.
—Always check the candy to make sure it's safe before handing it over to eager children. Even though you may know your neighbors well, it's a good idea to get your child used to the practice. In the not so distant future, your child's Halloween adventure will inevitably expand to the homes of neighbors you don't know as well. Instilling the rule that a parent will always check candy first is a great way to introduce your tot to this essential safety rule.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.