We spend most of the year telling our little ones not to take candy from strangers. Then, for one night each year, we teach them to ignore all the rules we set before. We send our children to the homes of strangers where that same stranger will give them candy.
Parents want to make Halloween fun for their children; parents need to make Halloween safe. Many Halloween-related dangers and injuries can be avoided if parents prepare their children and supervise activities. Everybody has suggestions for keeping the kiddies safe. The following come from the Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Safety Council.
The following are some reminders for parents and children about how to have a safe Halloween.
Go only to well-lit houses. If you see the porch light on or pumpkins in front of the door, knock. If the porch light is out (even if you see the television on and someone home), walk on by. Not everyone appreciates the holiday, and no one should be obligated to receive the children of strangers.
Remain on porches. Do not enter houses of people you do not know. This is a good chance to teach social interaction. “Please” and “Thank you” are important. Let your child respond to questions. If your child is shy, encourage them to speak up. When a stranger asks, “What are you?” do not answer for your child.
Travel in small groups. Take along an adult. The adult should provide supervision, but let the children take as much of the lead as they can. Let them determine which house is a good house to go to. Let them determine whether to say “Trick or treat” or shout “boo.” You are there to chaperone and make sure they obey the rules, but you are not there to run the whole show.
Know their phone numbers. They should have their names and addresses attached to their costumes. Some folks will suggest putting a card with the information in their candy bag, but the bag can get separated from the child. It is far less likely that the costume and child will get separated.
Use two separate bags. The first bag is for houses of people we know. The second is for houses of strangers. Both bags of candy should be inspected by parents before anything is eaten, but special care needs to be given to items from people the family does not know.
Carry a flashlight and wear reflective tape on shoes, candy bag and anywhere else it can be appropriate on the costume. If children are going in a group, everybody does not need his/her own flashlight, but at least a few people should have. Flashlights make it easier to see and to be seen.
Stay on sidewalks. Do not walk across yards. You might step in something icky, or trip on a sprinkler or a hole. Unless a homeowner has set up a path to the door that isn’t on the sidewalk, use the sidewalk.
Cross streets at the corner. Never cross between parked cars. Use crosswalks where they exist, but remember that painted lines do not stop cars. You have to be careful walking at night.
Whenever you cross a street, stop to make sure your whole group is still together. If you have small children, make sure they are holding your hand when crossing the street.
Masks can obstruct a child’s vision. Consider using make-up or face-paint instead of a mask. If the child does wear a mask, consider the kind that can be slipped on and off easily. Put the mask on at the door, and take it off to walk between houses. Also hats should not slide over eyes.
Make sure costumes are not so long that children are likely to trip on them. Likewise, make sure shoes fit to prevent tripping.
For parents there are some basic safety tips, too.
If you are passing out candy, get your home ready for trick or treaters. Clear your sidewalks and porch of obstacles that little ones might trip over.
Use glow sticks or LED tea lights instead of candles inside of jack-o-lanterns to avoid any possible accidents. If you use candles, keep them away from curtains or other flammable items. Never leave a pumpkin with a lit candle unattended.
Do not give out choking hazards like gum or hard candies or small toys to children under three. When going through your child’s bag of goodies, cull out those items that might pose a choking hazard to them, too.
Inspect all candy before anyone eats it. Be smart, too. Limit how much candy a child is allowed to eat in a single day or a single sitting. Consider baking cookies with M&Ms that can be frozen, or given as gifts for the holidays. Consider using some candy to make art-work to decorate for Thanksgiving.
If you want to make special treats for the children in your neighborhood who you know, include a tag with your name and phone number so parents can call and ask questions if they need to. It also gives them a chance to call and thank you. When I was growing up, Mrs. Paul always made toffee apples or rice krispie squares for the children she knew. That was the most special part of Halloween in our neighborhood. The children she did not know got regular candy.
With younger trick-or-treaters, take at least one grown-up per group. The recommendation from our local park and recreation department was one parent per four children.
Parents should not over-estimate their children’s ability to cross streets safely. Children usually play outside in the daytime. Here, they are excited and visiting with friends and it is dark. They are sometimes in strange neighborhoods. Before you cross the street, make sure small children are holding your hand. Older children should be in front of you where you can see them.
Remember also that while you are being careful, do not text or talk on the phone while chaperoning trick-or-treaters. Keep your attention on them.
Drive slowly and watch out for children (or people behaivng like children) in the street and between cars.
Consider alternatives to candy. Many party supply stores will have small packs of crayons, stickers, tops, or other small items. These may not be appropriate for very little children, but are certainly a great alternative to sugary sweets.
Talk to your local school or food bank before Halloween about whether they can use donations of candies. I will sometimes find two-for-one sales on candy. I use one for distributing to the beggars who come to the door, and give an unopened one to the local food pantry to use as they see fit.
Halloween is the beginning of a whole season of celebrations. The holiday is supposed to be scary in a fun way. Keeping it safe should be everyone’s priority.