In just a few days, ghosts and goblins of all kinds will invade neighborhoods in their annual search for Halloween treats. With a few extra precautions and some careful planning, you can help keep the night safe and fun for your little ghouls and boys.
"Halloween is about fun and you never want anything to happen that would interfere with that enjoyment," says Gary Freed, M.D., M.P.H., Percy and Mary Murphy Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health Delivery, and chief of the Division of General Pediatrics at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
Some of the greatest dangers on this spooky night are not so obvious, but "some pretty simple fixes can make it safe and fun" says Karla Klas, B.S., R.N., a nurse educator in injury prevention at the U-M Trauma Burn Center. To help you and your family stay safe, Freed and Klas offer the following five tips to make sure the haunted house is the only thing that is scary this Halloween:
- Consider safety while picking costumes. "Parents must remember, just as if it was any other evening, to make sure their children are visible to cars - and that's something which is very easy to do," says Freed. Work with your kids to pick costumes in bright colors, consider adding reflective tape or accessorizing with a flashlight or glow stick so that everyone can be seen by drivers.
Accessories such as wigs, masks and swords can be especially dangerous and should be avoided. One little fall can make plastic swords and pirate hooks just as dangerous as the real ones. Masks can prevent proper breathing and, like wigs, may seriously impair children's eyesight. Face paint is a great alternative. Make sure that all the ingredients are hypoallergenic and Food and Drug Administration approved by checking the FDA Web site. If the mask makes the costume, pick one made of soft plastic with large openings around the eyes, nose and ears.
- Planning is the key to safe trick-or-treating. "The biggest risk for children during Halloween is being hit by a car," says Freed. Agree on a route before heading out. Stick to crosswalks and sidewalks, avoid unknown homes or those without lights on, steer clear of high-traffic areas, and never cross between parked cars.
If your ghosts and goblins are older than 12 and want to trick-or-treat on their own, agree on a curfew and make sure they, too, follow a planned route.
- Be cautious about candy. As always, make sure to check all candy for any signs of tampering, discarding any homemade treats from an unknown chef.
Before your little ones gobble up their treats, remove any pieces that may pose a choking hazard such as gumballs, peanuts and hard candies.
"You don't want to ruin a fun evening with children having stomach aches," cautions Freed. To keep your little pumpkins from overeating, providing a light meal before setting out, and set a limit on how many pieces of candy they can have each day. Also, consider setting a date - such as Thanksgiving - when the rest of the candy will be discarded or donated to a food shelter.
- Watch for fire hazards while decorating. That candle in your jack-o-lantern might be more dangerous than you think, and those spooky spider webs decorating your home and luminaries leading trick-or-treaters to your door can quickly become a fire hazard.
"Avoid flame or candles if possible. There are some great alternatives such as small electric lights and glow sticks," suggests Klas. A howl of wind or the brush of a broomstick might knock a candle-lit luminary or a pumpkin over and cause a fire and even serious burns. Be careful to place other decorations away from any candles or close to lights as they, too, may pose a serious fire danger.
"If candles are a must, consider their placement and make sure they are away from pets and children," cautions Klas. A flowing costume or a jumping animal near a candle can quickly turn a good time into tragedy.
- Safety can start with you. "Adults need to be extra aware while driving," says Klas. Four times as many deaths among children ages 5 to 14 occur on Halloween night than any other night of the year, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The big night falls on a Wednesday this year, so make sure to take special care while driving even on the nights before and after the date as celebrations may take place on other days.
Other safety tips to keep your Halloween safe:
- Buying a costume? Check the label and make sure that it is made of flame retardant materials. Klas says a costume made of 100 percent polyester is the best bet.
- Make sure the costume fits right. Costumes that are large or have excess fabric like capes can cause dangerous falls or may quickly ignite around open flames.
- Leave pumpkin carving to the adults. Allow kids to design and help scoop the pumpkin but keep them away when the carving knife comes. All knife work must be left to adults.
- "Make sure that masks do not interfere with a child's ability to breathe when they are running and not attached by something that can get caught around their neck," says Freed. That goes for capes too.
Written by Milly Dick