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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 25, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

With colorful costumes and free candy everywhere, Halloween is certainly a child’s holiday. But parents have an important role in Halloween, too: making sure their little princess or cowboy stays safe while celebrating.

Halloween safety begins long before Oct. 31. Whether you choose to purchase, make or borrow a costume, there are some important things to consider. Most trick-or-treating happens in the dark, which can present a safety hazard to children and drivers. Help your child stay as safe as possible by choosing light-colored costumes or adding glow-in-the-dark tape or stickers to the front and back of the costume. This will ensure that drivers see your child and keep a safe distance from them on the big night.

Visibility is an important consideration for kids as well as drivers. Parents should make sure their child’s costume does not include a wig or mask that makes it difficult for a child to see. Nontoxic face paint or makeup is preferred to masks, as a mask can make it difficult to both see and breathe. Check that costumes are marked “flame-retardant” to make sure they are resistant to fire.

Parents have to make other, less tangible considerations when their child is picking out a Halloween costume. Some Halloween costumes can be inconsiderate to the culture or background of others. Older kids especially might find it funny to dress up as a reality TV star, for instance, but it is important for parents to talk about kindness and not using this fun holiday as an opportunity to mock other people.

Trick-or-treating can create a lifetime of memories for families, but it’s important for parents to observe some general safety tips that night. Parents should know the neighborhoods their children are visiting and, with younger children especially, go with them to each house to make sure they are safe. Make sure they know their home phone number and cell phone number of their parents in case they get lost.

Older children may be deemed mature enough to go door-to-door without a parent, but make sure they follow some basic safety rules. Older kids should go in a group and stick together. Parents should know their route, when they are expected home and ensure they have a cell phone for the evening, if possible. Kids should be reminded to only go to houses with porch lights on and walk on sidewalks on lit streets. Older children should also get a reminder to never go into strangers’ homes and cars. It may inspire an eye roll and an “I know, I know,” but it is worth repeating.

After trick-or-treating, parents should look at all treats to make sure they are unopened and safe and show no signs of tampering. It’s easy for kids to go crazy with a bucket full of candy, but parents should help them ration their supply to make sure they aren’t getting a stomachache or eating too much sugar. Parents should consider being more relaxed about candy eating on Halloween, within reason, but make sure children don’t turn trick-or-treating into a weeklong free-for-all.

For you young-at-heart parents, wear a costume as well and have a great time out with your children. Being a parent doesn’t have to scare away your fun on Oct. 31. Enjoy your Halloween experience with your kids (and snag a piece of candy or two for yourself, too!).

Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at

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