For parents, here's the true meaning of Halloween: For the next several months, we'll find candy wrappers stashed everywhere in the house.

Long after all that sugar has been consumed, digested and expended as frantic misbehavior, the packaging remains behind -- stuffed between sofa cushions, hidden under beds and shredded in the clothes dryer. Everywhere, really, except in a designated trash receptacle.

This is the result of two factors:

1) For our safety, federal law requires that each piece of Halloween candy be individually wrapped in tightly sealed cellophane with the same half-life as plutonium.

2) Children, as a rule, have no notion of putting things away when they're done with them. This includes trash.

Most grown-ups, finding themselves with a fistful of Jolly Rancher wrappers, would hoist themselves up off the couch and throw them away. They do this in the vain hope that such physical movement will burn up some of the calories they just consumed. More importantly, they know that, if candy wrappers are scattered everywhere, their homes will resemble the city dump.

Children don't mind if every step in the house brings the crackle of candy wrappers underfoot. They'd be perfectly happy living at the city dump. Why? Because, at the dump, no one would scold them for making a mess. And even the most stringent parent wouldn't expect them to clean it up. Not without a bulldozer anyway.

If you don't believe this, go look in your children's rooms. Odds are that most everything they own is on the floor. Sift through the toys and lost homework and stray shoes and dirty socks, and you'll likely find some candy wrappers from last Halloween.

Parenting experts tell us it doesn't have to be this way. By exercising firm parental control and a basic system of punishment and reward, the experts say, parents can teach children to clean up after themselves.

To these experts, we parents out here in the real world would like to say: Bwah-hah-ha-ha-ha! Whooo! Stop, your killing us. Whew.

Teaching children to keep their rooms clean is like teaching a cat to drive a car. Given enough time and fortitude, you might be successful, but you won't be happy with the results.

At our house, we regularly rag our two sons to pick up the clutter that's ankle-deep on their floors. They humbly decline. We force the issue. Grumbling, the boys clean their rooms. Where does all that stuff go? Under their beds.

We parents didn't snap to this technique right away. As long as we could walk across the room without risking serious injury, we were happy. But, eventually, we noticed the legs of the beds were no longer touching the floor. . .

I once visited a family and was stunned that the junk in their kids' rooms was not ankle-deep, but knee-deep. In fact, I wouldn't have entered the rooms without first donning hip waders.

The parents showed no embarrassment over this situation. Housework, they said, wasn't a high priority for them. And the dad had a unique way of dealing with the problem. Once a year, he goes into the kids' rooms with a shovel, scoops everything into trash bags and throws it away. Everything, boom, into the garbage.

This would never work at my house. My kids have been known to fish their precious belongings out of the trash and put them back where they belong -- under the bed.

So what's the answer? I don't know. But here's something you can try for Halloween: Dole out the candy one piece at a time. Make your child trade in an empty wrapper for each new treat.

You parents can reward your resourcefulness by eating some of the Halloween candy yourselves. Hide the wrappers between the sofa cushions, and the kids will never know.

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