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Halloween Safety

Halloween night, and the weeks of preparation leading up to it, can be very exciting for children of all ages. Halloween is a special celebration that children can share with their family, friends and community. Children have the chance to walk around their neighborhood at night, which most do only on this one night of the year.

They also have the opportunity to explore their fantasies and challenge some of their fears. Children may choose to dress up as a character they admire—such as a firefighter, athlete, princess, action hero, or doctor—and feel like they take on some of their character’s bravery, strength, and beauty. They may also choose to dress up as a character they fear—such as a ghost, devil, evil action figure, or ferocious animal—and feel like they take on some of their character’s power and overcome some of their own fears.

As parents, we need to help our children find a healthy balance between excitement and fear, freedom and safety. As fun as Halloween can be, it can also be scary for some children. And it can also be scary for adults because of concerns about the dangers for children. In fact, the National Safe Kids Campaign found that Halloween is the most dangerous night of the year for child pedestrians—they are four times more likely to die from being hit by a car than on any other night of the year. Children are also at risk for falls, burns, poisoning, and abductions.

To help make Halloween safe and fun for everyone, take the following precautions.

Making Halloween less scary

Does your child tend to be afraid of the dark, scary movies, or being startled? If so, consider starting your child with a less-scary version of Halloween:

  • Avoid ghoulish costumes, decorations, scary movies, and haunted houses.

  • Plan to take your child trick-or-treating when it is still light out, then let your child help you give out treats later.

  • Observe your child’s reactions closely and talk with her about her feelings. Depending on her reactions, be prepared to readjust your plans.

Making your child’s costume safe
  • If you buy a costume, look for flame-resistant materials.

  • Encourage your child to wear a costume that is light-coloured and visible in the dark. Consider adding reflective tape or stickers to the costume and trick-or-treat bag.

  • Make sure the costume is short enough and your child’s shoes fit well to prevent tripping.

  • If your child is wearing a mask, make sure it fits well and he can see and breathe easily. If necessary, cut larger holes for the eyes and mouth.

  • If your child is wearing face paint, make sure it is non-toxic. Try some face paint on a patch of skin beforehand to make sure your child is not allergic.

  • Send your child out with a flashlight.

  • If your child is old enough to trick-or-treat with friends and without you or another adult accompanying him, attach a card to his costume with his name, address and telephone number in case of emergency or if he gets lost.

Carving a pumpkin
  • Children under age 5 can use markers to draw a face on the pumpkin, and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. But don’t let them handle a knife.

  • Older children may be able to do some carving with a safe pumpkin knife and close adult supervision.

Making your home safe for trick-or-treaters

  • Check that your walkway and steps are well-lit. Replace any burned out bulbs.

  • Remove tripping hazards such as hoses, ladders, bicycles, and toys from your yard and walkway.

  • Sweep wet leaves and sand from the walkway and steps.

  • Keep your pets indoors or in an area away from the visiting children.

  • If you set out lighted pumpkins, make sure they are covered, on a stable surface, and away from curtains and walkways or steps where they could set fire to a child’s costume.

Instructing your children in safe trick-or-treating
  • Make sure children under 13 are accompanied by an adult.

  • Plan and review the trick-or-treating route with your children.

  • Remind your children to stay in a group, visit only houses with lights on, and never to enter a home or car for a treat.

  • Remind your children that traffic safety is crucial: stay on well-lit streets, always use the sidewalk, and cross the street at the crosswalk after looking both ways.

Dealing with treats
  • Tell your children to bring their treats home before eating them.

  • If your child has food allergies, check the ingredients carefully and know which candies are safe for your child.

  • Although it’s very unlikely that someone might give your child a poisonous treat, it’s best not to take any chances. Check the treats and discard anything homemade, spoiled, unwrapped, or tampered with.

  • Keep hard candy away from children under age 4 since it can cause choking.

  • To prevent tooth decay, limit candy to after meals, and make sure your children brush their teeth afterwards. Check with your dentist to see whether they have a plan for exchanging candy for money or a toy (some do), or consider offering your child your own candy exchange plan.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician