Halloween is a night of excitement for children, a time when the chilly air is alive with imagination and anticipation. It can also be a time of danger for children and parents who are unprepared to safely navigate the trick-or-treat route.
The leading cause of Halloween injury to children is falls from tripping over hems of costumes, steps, curbs or unseen objects, according to the National SAFEKIDS Campaign. To prevent falls, make sure your child's costume is short enough that they don't trip on it. Also, remove ladders, garden hoses, wet leaves and other obstructions from your lawn and porch. By turning on your porch light, you can let trick-or-treaters know your treat jar is stocked and, just as important, you can help to prevent falls on porch steps.
Tony Scalzo, an emergency room physician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and medical director of the Missouri Regional Poison Center, has seen it all when it comes to Halloween injuries.
"The most common injuries we see are related to falls. Children who have fallen come in with broken bones, scrapes and cuts," Scalzo says. "Unfortunately, we sometimes see children who have run into the street and been hit by cars."
Indeed, perhaps the scariest thing about Halloween is that children are four times more likely to die as pedestrians on that night than any other night of the year. Early nightfall, dark costumes and excited children darting into the streets make a lethal combination when vehicles are involved.
To help keep your little ghouls and goblins safe, follow these safety tips from the National SAFEKIDS Campaign and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For kids age 12 and under:
- Adults should accompany young children on their trick-or-treat rounds.
- Attach the name, address and phone number (including area code) to the child's clothes in case they get separated from adults.
For kids over age 12:
- Make sure your child knows his or her phone number.
- Make sure your children have a cellular phone or change for a phone call in case they have a problem away from home.
- Instruct children to travel only in familiar areas and along a pre-established route.
- Instruct children never to enter a home or apartment building unless accompanied by an adult.
- Set a time for children to return home.
- Restrict trick-or-treating visits to homes with outside lighting.
- Tell children to bring their treats home before eating them. Parents should check treats to be sure that items have not been tampered with and are safely sealed. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Be careful with fruit that your trick-or-treaters bring home. Inspect the surface closely for punctures or holes, then thoroughly wash and cut it open before allowing a child to eat it.
For kids of all ages:
- Decorate costumes, bags and sacks with reflective tape and stickers. Glow sticks are another very useful safety device to ensure being seen in darkened streets.
- Avoid loose-fitting masks that can restrict vision. A good alternative is face paint or cosmetics, but be sure they are non-toxic, hypo-allergenic and made with U.S.-approved color additives.
- Look for "flame resistant" labels on costumes, masks, beards and wigs. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that a 12-year-old girl died of severe burns three years ago, when her homemade costume brushed against a jack-o-lantern candle.
- Avoid costumes made of flimsy material and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts. These are more likely to come in contact with an exposed flame, such as a candle.
- Use costumes that are light or bright enough to make children visible at night.
- Consider having the child carry a flashlight to make them more visible and to help prevent tripping.
- Teach children to walk, not run, while trick-or-treating.
- Teach children to look left, right, then left again before crossing any street and to continue looking both ways as they cross.
- Dress children in shoes that fit to prevent falls and discomfort.
- Allow children to carry only flexible knives, swords or other props. Anything they carry could injure them if they fall.
- Tell your children not to cut across yards. Lawn ornaments and clotheslines are hidden hazards in the dark. Tell your children to stay on the sidewalk at all times.
- If you're planning to carve a jack-o-lantern, never allow young children to use a knife. Let the child draw a design with markers on the pumpkin that can be carved by an adult. Children ages 5 to 10 can carve with pumpkin cutters equipped with safety bars.
- Consider serving a spooky, Halloween-themed meal before trick-or-treating. This will reduce your child's temptation to feast on their treats before you can inspect the goodies at home.
Parents have a lot to think about in planning a safe Halloween, but if you follow these tips, the scariest thing about your Halloween should be what to do with all that leftover candy.