How science can help you steal your kid’s Halloween candy

First off, let us just say that we know your kids are really smart. They’re basically geniuses, right? That thing that your son/daughter said the other day? It was both adorable and incredibly insightful about the human condition. Definitely Facebook-worthy.

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An innocent little angel being completely misled by her mother.

But be that as it may, your kids are still kids. And a lot of times, kids are easy to trick. (Which works out great for you on days when their inherent cuteness has allowed them to acquire their approximate weight in miniature pieces of chocolate.)

So here’s some research-based advice about how you can get your greedy hands on their Halloween haul, without them even realizing what’s going on.

Ages 0–2:

Congrats, Mom and Dad! You’re in the trick-or-treat sweet spot. You have created a human being whose existence makes it acceptable for you to go around begging your neighbors for candy, yet who is not yet old enough to consistently recognize said candy as a delicious, pleasure-producing food source. You have free reign over this candy. It is yours. Eat it whensoever you choose.

The only resistance you might run into at this age is if your kid wants to play with the candy as if it was a toy. In that case, just steal it when he’s not looking. Or if you can’t wait that long, try getting him to trade you the candy for that drool-covered crinkly butterfly over there in the corner.

Babies fall for that scam every time.

Ages 3–5 or 6:

Once your kids have gotten wise to the power of the sweet stuff, you’ll have to work a little harder to fleece them of it. But thankfully, the following technique – which is based on one of the all-time classic child development experiments – is designed to do just that:

Step 1.

Convince your supplier child to agree to share some pieces of candy with you. Admittedly, this is the hardest part of the process, but there are many different strategies that could help you out. Pleading might work, especially with particularly sweet and sensitive kids. Exercising parental authority is a good one, but using it too much could backfire on you pouty-daughter-from-Homeland-style in the teenage years. Bribing your kid by saying that he can eat some of the candy right now if he shares some with you may very well prove to be a winner. You know your kid. Push whichever buttons it takes to make this happen.

Step 2.

Line up five pieces of his candy in front of him, and then line up the same number of his candies in front of you. Children this age will know that this is fair, because you each have the same number of candies. But your kid isn’t going for fair here – the arrangement you made was that you would only get a little of his candy, right? So…

Step 3.

Use a little bit of magic. Spread his candies apart, changing nothing about his row of candies except that they’re taking up more room on the table. Children at this age tend to make two quantity-related errors when faced with this sugary sitch: First, they focus on only one aspect of the situation (just the length of the row and not other things like the number of items). And second, they fail to realize that an object retains its amount even though its appearance has changed. So just spreading his row apart will fool him into thinking that he has more than you, and he will gladly eat that deal up!

And now that you have half of his candy, so will you.

Ages 7 and up:

At this point, you’re pretty much out of luck. Your kids’ convenient little quantity errors are a thing of the past, and their love of the sugar buzz is at an all-time high. Not only is your kid less likely to voluntarily share his Halloween candy with you, he’s probably in his room right now devising an elaborate security system full of tripwires and/or dramatic red crisscrossing laser beams to prevent you from even approaching sniffing distance of his stash. To get at his candy now, you’re going to need to pull off some real Ocean’s 11 type of miracles.

And even if you do, he’ll still probably catch you.

Because seriously. Your kid’s a genius, remember?


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