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Six Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe This Halloween

10/30/2009 at 01:30 PM ET

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Halloween is practically a rite of passage for American kids.

Candy, costumes, parties and other fun festivities make it an exciting annual event. But it can also be quite dangerous if everyone’s not totally careful — masks, candles, strangers and germs can make the evening less than pleasant.

We spoke with pet and baby safety expert Debra Holtzman, author of The Safe Baby, Expanded and Revised: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living, to get her tips on keeping Halloween fun instead of frightful.

1. Make sure costumes are flame-resistant, well-fitting and flexible. Be sure accessories follow these guidelines, too. If any pieces are baggy or long, be sure to tailor them. “Children should wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes, as well,” says Holtzman. “This will help prevent trips and falls.”

2. Consider non-toxic makeup instead of a mask. “Facial gear can can obstruct the child’s vision or restrict breathing,” cautions Holtzman. “If they do wear a mask, make sure the child can see and breathe easily.”

3. Do not let children under the age of 12 go trick-or-treating or cross the street without the supervision of an adult. For guidance and safety sake, accompany younger children to the door of every home or apartment they visit. “Make sure to stay on well-lighted streets, too,” says Holtzman.

4. Be sure that teens go trick-or-treating in a group. “They should be taught to only stop at familiar homes and those with an outside light on,” shares Holtzman. “Make sure they know that they should not go inside any home or apartment.” Give teens a cell phone to carry with them, too.

5. Illuminate jack-o-lanterns with flashlights or glow sticks. Avoid candles as they can pose a danger for trick-or-treaters who may come in contact with the open flames and ignite their costumes.

6. As a parent, tote a bag filled with Halloween-night essentials. Holtzman recommends carrying a fully-charged cell phone pre-programmed with numbers for doctors, poison control and family members; flashlights and reflective tape; alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers; bandages and antiseptic wipes; and bottled water with some healthy snacks.

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Showing 29 comments

Katey on

One thing to remember about poison control: in the US the number is the same nation wide. They send you to the local branch based on the area code of the phone you are dialing from. So make sure you aren’t using an out of state phone number when you call or you’ll end up like me and be talking to a Florida poison control officer when you’re in Virginia.

Alex on

I have never taken my kids trick or treating, and I never will. It sends out totally the wrong message. Every other day of the year, we tell them not to talk to strangers, then all of a sudden, we’re sending them up to strangers houses and telling them to knock on the door and ask for things?! Not good. We do Halloween parties, but will never trick or treat. It’s completely discouraged in the UK, even by police.

tacos4me on

I know it’s wrong, but I couldn’t help laughing at #6. Taking all that gear along makes it sound like the kids are going camping out in the wilderness for the night!

Alice on

Why would you want to pack healthy snacks on Halloween night? :D

Alex I don’t do it either but I think people mostly go trick-or-treating in their neighborhood where they must know people fairly well, and everyone is out in the streets at the same time… it’s also a lot better and safer when everyone is doing it. In Eurpoe it is very uncommon (I’m French and never did it) so it’s less funny and less safe too.

Jessicad on

So sad, when I was little we didn’t have to worry about all this stuff. We knew all of our neighbors, poisoning wasn’t a worry either. Oy.

Laura on

Alex it does seem strange but like Alice said, most children stay in their own neighborhood and go to the houses where they know the people giving out the candy. I would never take my child to complete strangers houses.

Madison on

Um, I’m all for safety on halloween night, but #6 is seriously over the top! It’s actually funny.

Kristi on

My frustration with Halloween lately has been the teenage kids who show up without a costume on asking for candy….REALLY????? I’m all for being young at heart but if you are going to go out Trick or Treating you should really be wearing a costume. Otherwise, go to the store and buy some candy because I don’t want to give it to you lol!

marfmom on

Kristi yah I totally agree. And you know, I was just reading an article today about a man who has looked through papers since 1958 here in the US and not found one incident of a child being poisoned on Halloween from trick-or-treat candy (but 2 incidences of family posioning a child and trying to pass it off like it was from Halloween candy). I think people are a little paranoid.

I don’t see what’s wrong with taking your kids out to participate and checking over the candy before they eat it to make sure nothing is open. I never felt conflicted/confused about it as a kid. I wasn’t striking up conversations with strangers; I was getting a piece of candy from someone in my neighborhood and exchanging nothing more than “trick or treat! thanks!” with them. We were only allowed to go out for candy till we were 12, and my parents accompanied us. In HS my friends and I dressed up and went trick or treating for UNICEF. :-)

Grandma2Three on

I was surprised when my friend who lives in the UK told me children don’t trick or treat there. It’s such a tradition here and it was always my favorite holiday growing up. Here it really brings the community together. I love walking with my grandchildren from door to door. People decorate their porches and look forward to seeing all the little ones in their costumes. It’s the one night of the year most of our neighbors are home at the same time! We all get to catch up with each other even if it’s only for a quick hello. As far as talking to strangers goes, this really isn’t a fair comparison. To say we’re teaching our kids that it’s okay to talk to strangers is ridiculous. This is a designated holiday and most children are (or should be) accompanied by a parent. One night of trick or treating doesn’t teach them it’s okay to talk to strangers. The following day these same children don’t think they can go to anybody’s door and get a piece of candy. Let’s give our children a little credit! They aren’t stupid!

jessie on

when i was a kid i never went trick or treating, i was too afraid to knock on people’s doors, lol. not sure if i would let my kids go either, i’d just buy them candy myself:)

Sarah on

This is a great list but I want to stress how safely everyone should drive tomorrow night. Kids are running around and not as alert as they should be. A young girl was killed in my neighborhood last Halloween. She was trick or treating and ran across the street to go to another house, and was hit by a SUV. I hope every stays safe, keeps their kids safe, and has a VERY happy halloween!

hannah on

i’m totally exhausted by this level of paranoia

Julie on

No one should be teaching their children “don’t talk to strangers” anyways because guess what? Their whole life they will be talking to strangers! Instead, people should be focusing on teaching their children the right and wrong ways to talk to people they don’t know (what is appropriate, etc.) For example, if your child is lost (say in a store) with no one around they know to ask for help, what are they going to do? Ideally, they should be smart enough to approach a stranger for help instead of wandering around avoiding everyone. My parents taught me to think, not to be (irrationally) afraid of everyone/everything & I teach my kids the same. =)

Ashley on

I think the whole ‘dont talk to strangers’ thing is kind of rubbish. I mean – thats how we make friends in life – by talking to strangers! Everyone you meet in life is a stranger until you talk to them. @.@ Police are strangers, doctors are strangers, teachers – at least on the first day of school – are strangers, the cashier at the store is a stranger. What is with the whole dont talk to strangers thing? Avoid creepy people, sure. Whats going to happen talking to someone you dont know… most likely – nothing. You do it every day of your life. And if some little old lady came up talking to your child about how cute their outfit is and they stuck their nose up in the air at her and gave her the cold shoulder – you’d be telling your kid to be nice and say thank you (gasp – talk to a stranger). Kids get such mixed signals.

ecl on

People are waaay too paranoid – thank you marfmom. If we think danger lurks everywhere, our kids will never have wonderful experiences out in the world.

MommyDuty on

#6… hahahaha

Anna on

This just screams paranoia, please don’t follow this list and instead have….fun! Yes costumes can be baggy and there is nothing wrong with a mask. Let you kids eat all the candy they want for just this night.

Sara on

Hahaha…serious helicopter parenting issues. It’s good to be prepared, it’s good to be concerned, but it’s also important to relax and let our kids enjoy a night of dress-up and imagination. It can be a great opportunity to reach out and connect with our neighbors an share a sense of community. Let kids be kids and wear plastic care bear masks, eat candy without washing with germ-x, and maybe even wear a cape! They will be ok.

Kiko on

#6 is just way to intense for me. Stay home and give out candy cause #6 just ruins the night!

JM on

yeah completely agree. the whole “don’t talk to strangers” issue on halloween is completely ridiculous. if your kids are little go with them, for the older ones have clear guidelines. and these guidelines are silly, just have fun, enjoy yourself and rely on your own common sense. you don’t need other parents or media hysteria to tell you about dangers, give you yourself more credit as a parent and give your kids more credit to know right from wrong. if you are open with them, communicate properly and explain things in a way they understand then there is no reason not to have fun on halloween.

Alex on

Wow. Never thought I’d see so many parents disagreeing with the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule. Genuinely shocked by that. I don’t know very much about how trick or treating is handled in America, but for the small few who do it here, there doesn’t seem to be supervision by adults most of the time, and they do approach strangers. I have kids I don’t know coming to my door every year. And since my opinion is shared by the police forces in this country, I think it’s certainly a very fair one. The way it is normally handled in this country, it really does go against many safety lessons I have taught my children and I’m not willing to go against that in the name of a small tradition.

Teaching kids not to talk to strangers is an excellent lesson and despite the comments here, is not one I will ever cease to teach. I do not want my children approaching people they do not know and I would be shocked if any person here really wanted anything different. As adults, as we all know, this is different, and it is certainly not a fair comparison to equate children with adults in this instance.

I see that most people here say they are willing to supervise their children correctly and will not allow them to go to homes they do not know the residents of, which is a little different, but I hold fast in this opinion. And that doesn’t make me paranoid either, it makes me sensible. And I would hope that anyone who DOES go trick or treating would also be sensible in their approach to it. Like I said, I’m not against celebrating Halloween, we have parties and wear costumes (I’m Tinkerbell this year, in case anyone is wondering), but this is one tradition we can do without.

Grandma2Three on

Alex, I don’t understand why you’re so defensive. Nobody is asking you to participate in our countries traditions. You celebrate differently from us, that’s okay! Trick or treating has been a tradition here for generations. Where I live it’s a wonderful community event. It brings everyone together. My grandchildren are met by smiling neighbors, not questionable strangers lurking behind mysterious doors. Honestly, I think you have a distorted view of what it’s like here on Halloween.
You’ve mentioned a few times that your view is shared by the police forces in your country. I agree if your police force is telling you not to go out, you shouldn’t. It’s very different here. Our local force participates in our festivities! They even give out candy! I’m thankful Halloween here is still a happy community event and not something to be feared.
Oh and we have parties too!
I’m going as Mama from “Mama’s Family”

Alex on

Jeez, I’m surprised Grandma2Three. The police join in?! Strange! I’m not defensive either, I’m realistic. If parents supervise correctly and take their kids only to houses they know, that’s something a bit different, but the essence of this tradition is still not particularly positive to me. The police don’t tell you not to go out, they discourage the practice of knocking on stranger’s doors, asking for things, and the insinuation that you’ll do something mean if you don’t get something for it. Halloween has been adopted in the States and treated as a holiday, and it sounds like it may be more structured than here. But here in the UK, it’s not unusual for kids to throw eggs and flour at people’s houses if they don’t answer the doors. I’m fairly certain that happens in America as well. It seems like, unfortunately, kids lose their heads with it all. Halloween: Yes. Trick or treating: No. Like I said, it’s nothing against the day itself, I just find that trick or treating has more bad than good about it.

Grandma2Three on

I can tell you I’ve never thrown an egg at Halloween (I’m 49 years old!) or had one thrown at any house I’ve ever lived in. We’re ex-military so we’ve lived in quite a few! In our town if you choose not to give out candy, you just turn off your porch or outdoor lights. People skip your house and move on to the next. My elderly next door neighbors don’t give out candy and have never had a problem. I remember back in the 60’s and 70’s my grandparents would come to our house or go to the movies on Halloween night. They couldn’t handle getting up and down repeatedly to answer the door. They didn’t fear damage to their house. I’ve never heard of throwing flour..although I did see it once in the old Judy Garland movie “Meet Me in St’ Louis”. We did toilet paper houses when we were kids but never at Halloween. That would have cut into trick or treating time! I’m not saying it doesn’t happen somewhere, but in my 49 years I’ve never seen it. Maybe I’ve been lucky.
Our police aren’t the only ones to give out candy. Most of the local merchants do too. My son-in-law lived in the country growing up. His family always went to trick or treat night at the mall. Children go from store to store for their treats.
Anyway, I hope everyone had a lovely Halloween no matter how you chose to celebrate it!

Meliss32 on

We don’t generally celebrate Halloween here in Australia although many more people are choosing to have parties and get into the spirit.
I do agree with Alex though on the trick-or-treating, here it just seems to invoke trouble. I have had a couple of occasions when my house and cars have been egged because I didn’t answer the door.
It seems like in the USA the holiday is celebrated in a safe, community-minded way which is good to see.
I certainly wouldn’t be letting my little one trick or treat by himself.

Layla on

Grandma2Three, we may live in the same community…lol. I was driving through our downtown area early last night, and children were trick or treating at the stores of the local merchants. Our city police station is downtown, and there were 3 local lawmen/women out there handing out candy also. Our community has the same practice that if you don’t want to participate in trick or treating, just turn off the porch lights. I’ve never seen any adverse action (tricks) from that.

BTW, #6 is over the top…made me giggle.

Amanda on

A lot of people in North Texas now go to churches for Trunk or Treat or Fall Festivals that occur on Halloween. People decorate their trunks, fill them up with candy, and the kids go from car to car to get their goods. A lot of these events are carnivals with games for the kids, and some of the larger churches even have rides. Ever since these events started up around here in the last 10-15 years, the amount of trick or treating has diminished until now most people I know only have 5-10 trick or treaters come to their door. If I celebrated Halloween, then I’d take my kids to one of these events as opposed to canvasing our neighborhood.

MiB on

It’s kind of funny to see that people opposed to trick or treating are from and licing in countries where there is no tradition of trick or treating! I am one of those people as well, You wouldn’t get candy from me on Halloween because there is no tradition of trick or treating where I live, so I wouldn’t have any at home. But if You’d come to my door on the Thursday before easter dressed up as a witch handing me a easter greeting, You bet I’d give You candy!

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