The temptation may be irresistible Moms and Dads, but it’s been tried before and rarely works: Wrapping your child in bubble wrap before sending her out dressed as a FedEx package on Halloween won’t endear your child to you. Nor will it reassure you as she walks dark streets on October 31st carrying a treat bag and feeling the enthusiasm all children conjure when they troll for candy on this magical night. That stated, you can substitute caution and concern for bubble wrap by taking the next best action: learn and understand all of the potential dangers lurking in your community and then do everything you can to short-circuit your concerns by taking advice moms and dads working at Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert have gathered to keep you and your family safe. As for that bubble wrap, don’t throw it out. Save it for the day your money and child head for college. You’ll need all the help you can get after safely surviving 18 Halloweens!
1. Have the talk
Relax. We don’t mean the birds and the bees talk—we recommend a family meet-up sans smart phones, TV and other distractions. Stranger danger, physical threats and other dilemmas that can arise during a night when all of the rules of social etiquette go out the window are topics best broached by parents to reinforce what kids hear from teachers, Sunday school instructors at churches and synagogues, scout leaders and other important adults with whom your youngsters interact. Make game of it. Ask your kids to come up with as many Halloween dangers they can think of without prompting them. Their responses to this icebreaker could surprise you and open further dialog on topics you might never have broached if you came up with a potential dangers list on your own.
2. Use common sense precautions
Six common sense rules that have been around since you were a child still apply and bear repeating as the excitement of another spirited night of laughter and joy loom before you. Good, old-fashioned precautions are as applicable today as they have been for generations, so apply them as you approach this Halloween:
- Don’t allow a child to enter any home to retrieve treats–under any circumstances.
- Stick closely to kids if they are treat-gathering in multi-unit buildings like apartment houses; don’t wait outside or in the stairwell under the illusion that nothing can happen while you’re at the front door or elevator.
- Dump homemade treats from loot bags immediately and jettison anything that’s not sealed into a package. You’re not being overly protective if you caution kids not to snack along the way, either, because it’s anybody’s guess what they might pull from the bag when you’re not around to check the treat out.
- Allow kids to watch, not carve, pumpkins. It’s okay to let them draw on the skin, but the only knives they should be allowed to carry are the rubber ones required to complete a scary costume.
- Exercise caution to avoid setting off kids with disabilities. Increasing number of youngsters diagnosed with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are out and about on Halloween night. Sights and sounds your child finds pleasurable—albeit frightening—can be enough to terrorize kids on the autism spectrum, so keep this in mind, whether you’re dispensing treats at the front door or prowling the neighborhood with your mini-ghost.
- Establish a finite amount of time for trick-or-treating. Some cities, villages and towns mandate hours. If yours doesn’t set such limits, set your own and stick as close to that schedule as you can.
3. Travel safely from house to house
Kids are twice as likely to be hit by cars on Halloween as on any other night of the year. Even if you attach yards of reflecting tape to costumes, the impromptu nature of kids’ thinking trumps practicality every time a kid (even under adult supervision) spots an adult handing out Hershey Bars by the handful across the street and decides to grab some for himself. In addition to being perpetually vigilant walking the neighborhood, increase your chances of avoiding a car-related accident by choosing light-color costumes with shorter hems to avoid trip-and-fall injuries. Go easy on hoods, hats and masks that obstruct vision and arm your children up with inexpensive glow sticks, even if you must Velcro them to their outfits. Some parents swear by flashlights, but if you give them a heavy one, it’s going to wind up in the bag with the Tootsie Rolls in a matter of blocks, so if it feels heavy, substitute a lighter option.
4. Make sure the teen you put in charge of your children is responsible
If, for any reason, you can’t accompany your under-12-year-olds on their appointed rounds, choose a teen you know and trust. Halloween has become a popular night for teens enamored with dressing up and acting out in even more outrageous ways than usual and it takes next to nothing for a flirtatious, libido-ridden teen to turn their backs on little charges because a member of the opposite sex sidles up to flirt. It’s okay to lecture your babysitter on the finer points of Halloween safety and you also have the right to mandate a specific route–particularly if you’re paying that babysitter to oversee your kinder on this night of spooks and surprises. Put that route in writing to avoid misunderstanding if that gives you peace of mind when you wave goodbye from the safety of your front door and it can’t hurt to ask for check-in phone calls on the half hour if that’s what it takes to keep you calm while your kids are in the sitter’s care.
5. Don’t play with fire
You’re nothing short of obsessive when checking labels on costumes to make sure they’re UL tested for fire retardant textiles, but that doesn’t mean your child won’t encounter fire dangers on his sacred mission to accumulate the most number of Kit-Kat bars in his treat bag. Home decorators pull out all stops to provide haunting environments into which kids stumble—literally. Mix billowing costumes with lots of mood-provoking candles and you have a recipe for injury if your kid possesses the typical klutz allele found on most impetuous youngsters’ DNA. As a rule of thumb, use the same list of fire-related safety checks when judging neighbor’s homes as you put into place at your own home. All it takes is one inquisitive poke at an opening in a carved jack-o-lantern for pudgy toddler fingers to sustain a burn. Follow the advice of the National Fire Protection Association by eschewing yummy pumpkin-scented candles unless they’re positioned at heights that can only be reached by adults. At lower levels, replace candles with decorative lighting in black and orange that has been thoroughly inspected for frayed wires, broken sockets and loose connections. Remember: That UL tag promising product safety ceases to be a 100-percent guarantee once light strings are out of their packages.
6. Protect your child’s identity
Personalization is cute; trendy, in fact. But advertising to the world that your child’s name is Gracie by stitching big letters to her backpack, costume, cape or candy collecting bag can inadvertently trigger stranger danger. By all means, sew an ID tab with contact information to the inside of your child’s costume to guard against the remote possibility that you and your child become separated, but make it a discreet label to protect your entire family. Assuming you have already conducted a Google search for area predators, you may already possess data to help you avoid stops at select sites, but you can’t avoid every potential encounter when it comes to constantly-changing neighborhoods and fast-moving offenders, so err on the side of caution by removing conspicuous identifiers from your child’s external wardrobe. Nobody needs to know that Dylan is under that dinosaur suit with his name in giant letters imprinted across the chest.
7. Be cautious about haunted houses
Think twice before allowing your very young children to go through haunted houses for myriad reasons. Too many of these attractions are put together by amateurs without oversight by professionals skilled at recognizing dangers that can easily be missed once the lights are out and low-output light sources like votives and LED lights are the only illumination to guide visitors through twists and turns. It’s okay to ask haunted house sponsors if local firefighters, law enforcement officers and/or municipal authorities have vetted the structure for potential hazards. Additionally, it’s wise to avoid taking your young child into one of these attractions until you’re sure she won’t wind up having nightmares after the fact. If your child is ready for such an experience, and only you can make that assessment, why not enjoy it together rather than sending her into the fray alone? Don’t be surprised if even the bravest youngster, who just assured you he wasn’t afraid of anything, reaches for your hand at one point!
8. Protect your home
Turn on the TV any day of the week and you’re likely to discover that somebody is suing somebody else because they drank hot coffee, tripped over a rug, were burned or inadvertently injured because they happened to be on someone else’s property and decided it was that person’s fault that they were hurt or injured. We don’t live in an age of personal responsibility taking, so indemnify your assets, and protect your reputation and your family by carrying adequate homeowners insurance in addition to taking the aforementioned precautions to keep your home free of hazards on Halloween. It costs very little to add an umbrella policy to cover potentially huge claims resulting from trip and fall, fire and other accidents just waiting to happen because parents weren’t as diligent as you are about taking precautions. Halloween is a big night for pranks that can easily morph into serious vandalism, so a comprehensive policy can go a long way to indemnify you against loss and injury year round, but particularly on this night.
9. Consider alternative experiences
Park districts, churches, civic organizations—even hospitals and shopping malls—are providing alternative Halloween experiences for children so parents can offer their youngsters opportunities to enjoy the fun side of this spooky holiday without the risk. At such events, kids can still dress up, collect candy and even play organized games including best costume contests and best pet Halloween costumes. Check local media and your favorite Internet search engine to sleuth out these activities and treat your child to a night of fun. These controlled environments are particularly successful for parents of special needs kids who could exhibit off-putting behavior as a direct result of too much excitement. Want to promote this alternative within your crowd? Check with other moms in your circle and plan to take several youngsters to sanctioned events so the fun is shared. By the way, it’s okay to take your costumed bunny to a few select doors if grandma, the aunts and uncles are lurking behind them.
10. Don’t make yourself sick buying into myths
Razor blades in candy? Poisoned Rice Krispy Treats? Such serious but infrequent occurrences make headlines, but these should be the least of your worries as this holiday approaches with all of the inherent dangers that lurk. According to George Washington University professor of Public Interest Law John F. Banzhaf III, your child’s health risk is proportionately higher than any other scary possibility mentioned in this article if you allow adults to smoke in the presence of your children. Banzhaf has even enlisted the endorsement of the National Confectioners Association when refuting rumors and innuendo about Halloween treats with the potential to injure or kill kids. Keep this in mind on Halloween and work as hard to keep your children away from cigarette smoke as you do to keep them safe on this exciting night.