Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Fun decorations, supercute costumes, and lots of treats -- what’s not to love?
As a pediatrician, I am also very aware of some of the safety hazards that Halloween presents. Children are more than twice as likely to be struck and killed by a car on Halloween than on any other day of the year, according to data from the National Safety Council. I treat a lot of minor scrapes and bumps in the office from Halloween accidents, and similar to Christmastime, some of the decorations and lights used even pose electrical and fire hazards.
So, what can you do to keep your kids safe?
Road safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds trick-or-treaters to remain visible once the sun starts to set. Consider carrying bright flashlights or adding reflective strips or glow sticks to costumes, and be sure to cross streets where you are visible to drivers. If you are driving on Halloween evening, keep an eye open for children and anticipate that they may step off the curb and into the road unexpectedly.
Street smarts. If you are allowing older children go out without an adult, the AAP suggests that you review an acceptable route with them and establish areas that are off limits (ensuring they will not be cutting through alleys or over private property, for example). Consider making sure they have a cell phone to call for help if needed, and that they know what time they are expected home. Don’t forget to remind them that they should never enter a stranger’s home or car.
Costume kerfuffles. Minimize the risk of trips and falls by making sure costumes aren’t dragging and footwear fits well (those princess shoes may look pretty, but a 4-year-old tottering around the neighborhood in the dark wearing high-heels for the first time may not be the best idea). Make sure any masks allow your kids to see adequately and won’t slip down during the night. Finally, buy flame-resistant costumes and accessories whenever possible.
Have your kids wait until they get home before they start snacking on their candy. This allows an adult to inspect the haul first.
Snack safety. Have your kids wait until they get home before they start snacking on their candy. This allows an adult to inspect the haul first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children eat only factory-wrapped treats and avoid homemade or unwrapped goodies. Also, hard candies or bubble gum may be choking hazards for younger kids.
Décor dangers. The Electrical Safety Foundation International offers great tips for minimizing hazards while decorating for Halloween, such as not using lights and decorations outside unless they are specifically approved for outdoor use and inspecting for frayed and cracked cables each season. Remember that fall-themed decorations, such as hay and straw, are highly flammable so keep them away from any heat sources or open flames. Also, why not replace the candles in your pumpkins with a safer battery-operated one instead?
Allergy alert. This can be a difficult holiday for children with food allergies, but fortunately, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has published some advice on how children with allergies can still enjoy the festivities safely. FARE advises reading all food labels every time and being aware that fun-sized or mini versions may have different ingredients than the full-sized treats (I didn’t know that!). You can trade the unsafe candies for safe ones when you get home, and FARE also suggests that you can give your neighbors pre-made “goody-bags” of safe treats in advance that they can give to your specific child when he or she knocks on their door. I also offer several non-edible treats and party favors to trick-or-treaters that visit my home--both for food allergy reasons and because of the last point below. Finally, look for homes with a teal pumpkin outside—these families participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project and will provide non-food treats to trick-or-treaters with food allergies.
What do you do with all of that candy?
Healthy Halloween. What do you do with all of that candy? If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the kids come home with buckets overflowing with sweet treats--definitely more than they should be eating in one sitting, or even in one week. And as excessive weight gain becomes more and more of an issue for some children, parents need to help ration the loot. Consider having a discussion beforehand about what they can eat and when. The Halloween candy in my home lasts for weeks – the kids are allowed to choose a good handful to eat once they get home on Halloween night and then they may get a piece after dinner on select nights for the next few weeks. Don’t let your kids keep the candy in their rooms, so you can keep track of how much they are eating and when. Some families have their kids choose their top 10-20 pieces of candy and then donate the rest to one of the many charities that sends leftover Halloween candies to troops overseas. Whatever strategy your family chooses, it’s a good idea to have some ground rules in place.
Have a happy (and healthy) Halloween!
Sophie Shaikh, MD, MPH is a medical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Duke University in Durham, NC.
Halloween Safety Tips
[American Academy of Pediatrics]
Halloween Health and Safety Tips
[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
Are Your Halloween Traditions a Trick or a Treat?
[Electrical Safety Foundation International]
Tips for Trick-or-Treating Safely on Halloween
[Food Allergy Research and Education]
The Teal Pumpkin Project
[Food Allergy Research and Education]
“KidsFirst” is a blog, hosted by the Duke Department of Pediatrics, that provides high quality information to families on a wide range of important child health topics.