A Halloween Safety Guide for Parents

By Kate Maloney

Halloween is a holiday that teams sweet treats with the opportunity to dress up in costumes ranging anywhere from cute to creepy. Although people of all ages routinely participate in Halloween activities, it is a day that's especially anticipated by children. Every Oct. 31, streets across America are taken over by superheroes, witches, ghouls, and goblins in search of candy. While trick-or-treating is a fun tradition for most families, it doesn't come without its dangers. Parents who do allow their children to take part in trick-or-treating activities must be aware of and prepared for the risks that their kids face. Because it's an activity that involves children walking to the homes of strangers for candy, parents must exercise caution. Predators, tainted treats, and traffic are just some of the threats that must be addressed. Fortunately, there are many ways to help reduce the chances of children coming into harm's way.

Walking Safety

One of the most common ways to trick-or-treat is to walk from one home to another in one's own neighborhood. Parents will want to walk with younger children as they visit nearby homes. Teens who are responsible enough to go out on their own may even be allowed to supervise younger siblings. In both cases, kids should carry flashlights with fresh batteries installed or use glow sticks to make themselves more visible. Trick-or-treaters and their parents should also carry cellphones in the event that they become separated, there is an emergency, or someone feels that they are in danger.

Before trick-or-treating begins, parents should map out a walking route, ensuring that it is familiar and well-lit at night. Children should be instructed to strictly follow the route, not take shortcuts, and to walk on sidewalks or on the left shoulder of the road, if there are no sidewalks, and not across lawns or in the street. If kids must cross the street, they should do so at crosswalks (or at corners if there are no crosswalks) and use caution by checking both ways for oncoming vehicles. Before crossing in front of a stopped car, instruct children to make eye contact with the person behind the wheel. Kids trick-or-treating with friends should be warned to never walk alone and to be alert to the presence of strangers.

Driving

Although kids are advised to remain out of the road on Halloween, there is still a great risk that comes from vehicles. Adults driving at night must be alert and looking for children who may run out into the street or walk in the road. Yield to pedestrians at all times, as kids who dart into the street are likely not paying attention to whether there are approaching vehicles. In addition, not all children will carry flashlights or wear bright clothing, and they may be difficult to see in the dark. For this reason, anyone operating a car should drive slowly and carefully, particularly between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m. when children are most often out trick-or-treating. Come to a stop before passing stopped vehicles, as they may contain other parents dropping off children who may unexpectedly step into the street.

Costume Safety

Although Halloween costumes are meant to be fun, some can be problematic and even dangerous for kids who are out at night. Protect children by dressing them in costumes that can be seen in the dark. Generally, these are costumes that are bright or that have some reflective features. The fit and style of the costume should also not endanger the safety of the child who wears it. When buying costumes, avoid ones that are not flame-resistant and do not fit properly. They should not be overly large or long, nor should shoes and accessories be too big. Clothing and items that are too big may cause children to trip while walking or can even become a fire hazard if they come into contact with candles in jack-o'-lanterns or other open flames. Things that potentially block children's eyes, such as masks and overly large costume glasses, should also be avoided, as they can prevent children from seeing cars and potential dangers that may be around them. A creative application of makeup can often be used in place of masks.

Other costume accessories can cause severe allergic reactions or injuries that can disable a child for life. Avoid commercially purchased and nonprescription decorative contact lenses, for example, as not only are they illegal, but they can cause eye irritation or pain, infection, and inflammation. In some cases, they can even result in vision loss. Parents who allow their kids to wear decorative contacts should only buy them from a licensed eye care professional who will examine the child, prescribe lenses to fit the child's eyes, and teach them proper insertion, removal, and care techniques. It is also important to exercise caution before allowing children to wear costume makeup, as it can cause an allergic reaction in some children, even if it is labeled as non-toxic. As a result, all costume makeup should be tested on a small area on the child's skin, such as the inside of the elbow, for a minimum of one hour before full application. This is known as a patch test, and if any sign of irritation appears, the makeup should not be used.

Food Safety

For kids, candy is a major part of Halloween and one of the primary reasons why they anticipate its arrival. Despite the enthusiasm that one's children may have at the prospect of a bag full of candy by the end of the evening, it is the job of parents to monitor and screen what their children consume. At the beginning of the evening, instruct children not to eat any of the candy they receive until it has been checked by either a parent or a designated adult. Once the children bring their sweet loot home, it should be checked to ensure that it is commercially wrapped and that the wrapping does not show signs that it has been tampered with. Signs of tampering may include tears, small holes or puncture marks, or discoloration. Anything that appears to be tampered with should be disposed of. Homemade food items should also be thrown away, as they may contain drugs or other dangerous substances that are not easily detected. Food allergies should also be kept in mind before allowing kids to eat Halloween treats. If a child has an allergy, check the labels of commercially wrapped treats to ensure that they are free of the offending ingredient.

Parents who are throwing Halloween parties can ensure the safety of the food that they serve by not allowing perishables to sit out for long periods of time. The FDA recommends not allowing perishables to sit out for more than two hours in temperatures that are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit or one hour for temperatures that are above 90 degrees. This means foods should not be set out until they are ready to be served. Kids should not be given non-pasteurized cider at parties, nor should they play games such as bobbing for apples, as they contribute to the spread of bacteria and can make children sick.