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Halloween Safety Tips from Dr. Wedro

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editors: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Halloween is a tough holiday. The mantra of most parents used to be "Have fun!" It's been replaced by "Be careful, be safe". Children walk from house to house, knocking on strangers' doors demanding candy, while public service announcements warn about actually entering the house or getting into unknown cars. Our world has changed a child's night of silly fun and sugar fixes into one of parental fear. A balance needs to exist to allow the freedom for kids to grow and for that growth to occur in a safe environment.

Neighborhoods are no longer the safe haven that they once were. The American Academy of Pediatrics makes these common sense recommendations to allow for safe trick or treating:

  • Stay in groups

  • Walk in well lit neighborhoods

  • Stay on the sidewalk

  • Carry a cell phone

  • Only approach houses with porch lights turned on

  • Always have a parent accompany young children

My bias is always sports-related. If there is an opportunity to scout the opposition, one should take it.

  • Drive a neighborhood route beforehand and look for potential hazards like empty lots, broken street lamps or busy street crossings.

  • Plan where your children will walk.

  • When they're young, take them door-to-door and perhaps just go to the homes of people you know.

Athletic uniforms have function, but costumes are a challenge. In warmer climates, fit is easy. Growing up in Canada - the end of October can be cold and windy. Those costumes had to fit over winter coats and boots. The best laid planning occasionally had to give way to the practicality of the weather. Rain, snow, and wind can lay waste to the best plans for the perfect costume. The cool costume needs to be balanced by its need for function and safety. A couple suggestions from the accident prevention experts:

  • Avoid masks since they tend to fit poorly and slide over kids' eyes, making it tough to see oncoming cars. Consider makeup. Even boys don't mind a little grease to look like their favorite superhero.

  • After the costume has been chosen or made, add some reflective tape to make certain your child is visible to drivers.

  • Have a flashlight that actually works, or better yet, have the children walk in well lit neighborhoods.

Now comes the hard part. Your child comes home with the sugar booty and you have to decide what is safe to eat. Taking candy from strangers is one of the big don'ts in the parenting textbook, yet we live in a world where most people are kind and generous. It's that small percentage of people that make parents paranoid and fear for their loved ones. It's a wise parent who checks to make certain the candy is safe. The discard pile should include unwrapped food, including homemade treats and anything that looks suspicious. Tampered treats are rare, but parents' radar should always be on high.

So the "Grinch" has told you how bad Halloween could be, and the reality is as an Emergency Department physician, I know first hand, that many children are hit by cars each year. Excitement sometimes outstrips common sense, especially in children, and especially in children in groups. It is the parent's job to balance the risk reward of the holiday and still make it fun. Common sense prevails. If you're worried that a situation might be dangerous, it probably is. And while your child may be upset because "other" parents allow their schoolmates and friends to go trick or treating alone, remember that you're the "other" parent to your child's friends. Your decision goes a long way to shaping behavior and safety for your child, your child's friends, and perhaps a whole neighborhood.

Practice makes perfect, and allowing the freedom to roam the streets comes because of graduated responsibility. Taking the 3 year old up to the door of a neighbor progresses to standing at the end of the sidewalk the next year. A couple of years later, the sidewalk becomes the end of the block. Then the big step finally happens as you wish them well as you stay home and guard the house from other roving bands of monsters, goblins, and princesses.

And you thought it was tough sending your kids off to college.

REFERENCE: The American Academy of Pediatrics. Halloween Safety Tips.
<(http://www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/octhalloween.htm)>


Last Editorial Review: 10/25/2010




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