The Fun Way to Help Kids Avoid a Halloween-Candy Binge


Tired of the yearly Halloween-candy showdown with your kids? The Switch Witch may be your solution. (Lara Spear Riley/Rob Bouley)

By now, the stock of Halloween candy in stores has probably started to thin out as Americans have been loading up on sugary loot for trick-or-treaters, to the tune of an estimated $2.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

That’s good news for little monsters looking to bring home a mega-haul, but to you parents, the saccharine windfall is way more trick than treat: In the weeks after Halloween, there’s the bargaining (“OK, just one more”), the inevitable sugar highs and crashes, and yes, the temptation to raid your child’s stash. 

That’s why one brother and sister-in-law duo — both parents of young children — invented the Switch Witch, a twist on the Elf on the Shelf, the little plush toy that watches over kids around Christmas time (and then reports back to Santa). The Switch Witch is a little less punitive, however; she’s just looking to make a trade — candy for a gift — in the same way the Tooth Fairy leaves cash for lost teeth. 

Rob Bouley, a Massachusetts ice cream shop owner, was inspired last Halloween to create the character after his wife asked if they had gifts to give their sons in exchange for their candy — a tradition she called playing the “Switch Witch.” That night, he woke up at 2 a.m. and knew that he had to debut the Switch Witch on a larger scale. Over the next several months, he hired Scott Nash, one of the original illustrators for Flat Stanley, to design the Switch Witch doll; his sister-in-law, Lara Spear Riley, wrote a book to accompany the toy.  

Related: The Best and Worst Halloween Candy

Here’s how it works: In early October, the Switch Witch — a small, friendly-looking plush witch — flies in on her cauldron, landing on a windowsill in your house. On Halloween night, your little ones leave a pile of candy in front of the Switch Witch, and in the morning, they find that a special gift — a new book or toy, say — has replaced their sweet treats. 

“We’ve had a couple of parents pushing back a little bit, like, ‘This is something else I have to spend money on?’” said Spear Riley. “But you can find so many things even at the dollar store that a 6-year-old would be thrilled with.” Since his kids are older — ages 11 and 12 — Bouley has settled on sports equipment as the ideal gift. “We’d be buying cleats for them anyway,” he pointed out. Plus, since the idea is to encourage healthy eating, active gear seems appropriate.

“It’s a healthy version of the Elf on the Shelf,” said Bouley, who thinks this could be an especially helpful tool for children with allergies. “Their parents have to take their candy away from them as soon as they get home,” Bouley, whose oldest son is allergic to peanuts, told Yahoo Health. The Switch Witch may make that process a little bit easier. “It helps parents and kids that already struggle with Halloween — that have been dealing with allergies or obesity issues or possible dental issues,” added Spear Riley. 

The Switch Witch also has a simpler purpose: playfulness. “We wanted to make it really fun — to add a little bit of youthful, sweet magic to Halloween, which, sometimes, for young kids can be scary,” Spear Riley said. That’s why parents are encouraged to put the Switch Witch in a funny place every morning — Spear Riley’s kids got a kick out of seeing their Switch Witch riding on the ceiling fan and, another morning, wearing a stethoscope from their toy doctor kit. 

Although Bouley and Spear Riley acknowledge that the Switch Witch is similar to the Elf on the Shelf, there’s one big difference: Using the Switch Witch as a tool to encourage good behavior is entirely optional. “If parents don’t want to do that, we’re fine with it,” said Bouley. And unlike the Elf on the Shelf, which kids aren’t supposed to touch, the Switch Witch is designed to be a playmate. “There aren’t any rules about what they can or can’t do, in terms of holding their Switch Witch, playing with it, or bringing it places,” said Spear Riley.  

Related: Pumpkin Is Scary-Good for You! How to Tap Its Superpowers

And how much of your kids’ haul the Switch Witch takes is entirely up to you. Regardless of the amount, the toy’s creators emphasize putting the relinquished treats to good use — Switch Witch is an official sponsor ofHalloween Candy Buyback, a nonprofit that partners with Operation Gratitude to ship donated candy to troops overseas. You can either drop off your unwanted candy at a participating dentist’s office (search by zip code) or mail it directly to Operation Gratitude by Nov. 15.

So far, Bouley and Spear Riley have sold about 1,200 Switch Witches — more than they ever anticipated. You can purchase one on their website and on Amazon, or at select Hallmark stores across the country and The Paper Store locations in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.