While many parents painstakingly inspect the pounds of sugary loot brought home each Halloween, they need to keep in mind that candy tampering isn’t the largest concern they face.
“The biggest risk for children during Halloween is being hit by a car. Parents should keep an eye on their children and keep them relatively close to them,” says Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H., director of General Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Health System.
Make sure children – especially the smaller folk – wear reflective tape or light-colored or reflective clothing. They should also carry flashlights or chemical light sticks so that they are more visible to drivers.
Parents should remind children to stick to sidewalks and crosswalks; avoid running near or into a road to retrieve something that has been dropped; and avoid hiding near or crossing between parked cars.
Parents and neighbors can help prevent other physical injuries by thoroughly inspecting their yards, walkways and porches for potential hazards such as low hanging branches, holes and uneven pavement. Keeping your eyes out for hazards kids may miss when running from house to house can help keep the howls – from kids and ambulances alike – to a minimum.
Costume safety, as always, is a serious concern. By keeping costumes short enough to minimize tripping and choosing only masks that allow for the best visibility, you can ensure your child will be able to slither or slink through the night with ease. Eliminating the risk of suffocation is also important. “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.
Parents should also be aware of the dangers involved in a newer trend in costume choices – decorative contact lenses. The FDA warns that decorative contact lenses should not be worn or used without the appropriate supervision of an eye care professional. Possible injuries include ulcers and tears in the cornea; eye infections, including conjunctivitis; swelling of the cornea, allergic reactions; and in severe cases, blindness or eye loss. Vision impairment while wearing the lenses is also common.
For parents whose kids opt to use face paints instead of masks as part of their costume, pay close attention to the labels on face paints. Make sure that color additives in face paints are approved by the FDA. To do this, you can check the Summary of Additives on the FDA’s web site, at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/opa-col2.html. Understand that make-up, while approved for the face, should never be worn in or near the eye. By doing a little research ahead of time, you can prevent allergic reactions and damage to your child’s skin.
“Parents should make sure small children aren’t given candy or other items that are inappropriate for their age that might become a choking hazard, including small toys, bubble gum and jawbreakers,” says Freed. “Parents should check the labeling of all of the candies before the children are allowed to eat any of it. Parents with children that have allergies to certain candies or certain components of candies, such as nuts, should be particularly cautious,” he explains.
Freed also suggests giving candy in moderation. “You don’t want to ruin a fun evening with children having stomachaches. The amount of candy that is suitable to eat differs from child to child and parent to parent, so if it looks like too much, it probably is,” he says.
Parents should also be on the look-out for homemade treats, fruit and cider. All homemade treats should be discarded and fresh fruit should be thoroughly cleaned and inspected. If you plan on throwing a party this year, choose pasteurized ciders and juices to minimize the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria.
Provide a light meal to your child before they head out for trick-or-treating to help curb their temptation to snack on candy before you’ve had a chance to look it over.
Children’s needs vary with age when it comes to Halloween. Young children may be afraid and need their parent’s close companionship while older children want to assert their independence. “There is no magic number to determine at what age it is safe for a child to trick-or-treat alone,” says Freed. “Part of that will depend on your child, the neighborhood where they will be trick-or-treating and the behavior patterns of that child.”
Freed suggests that if a child insists on going out without his or her parents that they go with a group of friends. Kids should plan their route beforehand and share it with their parents. Parents should also remind kids not to go into a stranger’s house and stick only to homes with the lights on.
Small children may have different needs when it comes to trick-or-treating. “By taking a few minutes beforehand to explain what is going to happen when they ‘trick-or-treat,’ parents can help their young children be prepared to deal with the fun but kind of scary parts of Halloween,” says Freed.