It's easy to become overconfident about Halloween safety. In fact, I'm guilty of it myself. We feel safe in our neighborhood. The children trick-or-treat as a group and are always accompanied by several adults. We hold their hands when they cross the street and at all times the adults are just a few feet away. What could happen, right?
But then last year, a 3-year-old in a gorgeous princess costume almost caught on fire right in front of our eyes. She was walking up a narrow staircase lined with artfully-carved pumpkins, when a gust of wind blew her flowing costume over the open flame of a candle. Her father sprinted to grab her as the heat melted the back of her gown. Luckily, she was unharmed. Later, I realized how truly fortunate she was when I read about the recall of her costume because of its tendency to catch on fire.
This experience taught me that it's important to pay attention to every detail about Halloween safety, instead of just the ones that appear blatantly harmful. Listed below are a few ways to insure your children stay safe this Halloween:
· All costumes and wigs must be flame retardant. Review with your child the steps of stop-drop-and roll should their clothes catch on fire.
· Costumes should not be long enough to trip on or come in contact with flames.
· Consider adding reflective tape to your child's outfit and their trick-or-treat bags. This makes it much easier for motorists to see your child. Since children resist anything that detracts from their outfit, use the tape in inventive ways to enhance their costume. Shape the tape into a bat for Batman, into a star for a fairy princess, etc.
· Avoid masks that obstruct vision. Think about using non-toxic face makeup instead. If the costume fits over their head, the eyeholes should be large enough for peripheral vision.
· Make sure all shoes fit well and are easy to walk in. This means no high heels — ballet slippers are much more practical.
FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN:
· Have every child carry a flashlight with fresh batteries. It helps them to see and be seen.
· It's safer for children to walk in groups — and more fun. Invite another child to come over and go trick-or-treating with you.
· Don't allow your child to carry sharp items such as toy knives or swords.
· Teach children to walk, never run.
· Warn children not to step out from between parked vehicles.
FOR OLDER CHILDREN:
· Children under the age of 12 should be accompanied by an adult. Studies have shown that children cannot accurately judge distances of a moving vehicle before this age.
· Review the route with your children beforehand. Agree on a time they must return home, and make sure at least one child is wearing a watch with glow-in-the-dark hands.
· Go over the rules about not accepting rides from strangers or going inside a stranger's home. Tell your child to wait on the front porch for their treat, even though the invitation to "Come on in while I'll get your candy" may be perfectly harmless.
· With the recent string of child abductions, warn children not to get into the car with anybody — even neighbors you do know.
· Each child should carry emergency identification under his/her costume.
· Tell children to only approach houses with porch lights on. Not everyone enjoys Halloween. A dark house means the owners don't want to be disturbed. Teach your children to respect the differences in others.
· Children should remain only on well-lit streets and never cut across yards or alleys.
· Tell children to stay on the sidewalk and cross the street as a group. If there's not a sidewalk, walk on the left side of the road facing traffic.
· Stress the importance of the group not splitting up. The rule should be: if one child wants to come home, the entire group must bring him home. If your child happens to be the youngest and you're concerned about this, offer the group an extra incentive treat when they all return (hopefully with your child!) back to your house.
· Children should not pet animals — even animals they know. If they're in costume, the pet may not recognize them and may bite.
SAFETY AT YOUR HOME:
· Never allow young children to help carve the jack-o-lantern. We always buy two pumpkins — one to carve and one for my daughter to paint.
· If you use candles in your jack-o-lantern, keep it a safe distance away from the path children use. Keep in mind the wind may blow flowing costumes.
Also, make sure any paper or cloth decorations can't blow into the flame.
· Consider using battery powered lanterns or chemical lightsticks instead of candles in your pumpkin.
· Eliminate tripping hazards on your porch, walkway and lawn. Check for garden hoses, ladders or flower pots that might trip young children running across your lawn.
· Be sure to bring all pets in for the night. This is one night of the year they don't need to be out unsupervised.
· Unwrap and check out every piece of candy before your child eats it. Remember to do this in the days following Halloween, too. I've found the greatest danger seems to be in receiving candy that is old, melted or moldy.
If the chocolate is gray, throw it away. It's a sign the candy has been exposed to heat or dampness.
· Since hard candy is a choking danger to young children, consider giving out other types of candy. My daughter saves her hard candy and uses it to decorate her gingerbread house in December.
· Think about giving out alternatives to candy. Small bags of chips or pretzels are always popular as are stickers, plastic novelty rings or spiders, pencils, erasers and notepads. I fill a large plastic witch's cauldron with an assortment of these items and allow each child to pick two items. The kids love it, and the parents do, too!