In some areas, trick-or-treating has become a frightening and stressful experience for parents. While attempting to maintain Halloween's lighthearted fun and fantasy, they must protect their children from tampered-with foods, accidents, fire injuries and falls.
Following are some tips to help parents ensure a safe Halloween.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cautions parents not to buy "flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts." Not only can a child trip on oversize clothing, but the material might come into contact with flames in a jack-o'-lantern or with some other heat source. Costumes should be made of materials labeled "flame-resistant" or "flameproof."
Starts at Dusk
Traditionally, trick-or-treating starts at dusk, a prime time for automobile accidents. Children should carry a flashlight and wear light-color costumes decorated with reflective tape. The tape can be purchased in dime stores and sporting-goods stores.
Light sticks, which are plastic vials that glow after they are bent and snapped, are good accessories to carry or wear. Light sticks also come in the form of jewelry. The illumination lasts up to eight hours. The sticks are available in card shops and most local dime stores.
The product-safety commission further suggests that Halloween "bag or sacks also should be light-colored or decorated with reflective tape."
Donna Dolgovin, a registered nurse in the emergency room at Pomona Valley Hospital, suggests giving a child a smaller bag: "That way the bag will be filled up sooner and a child is more likely to come home early."
Masks should fit comfortably and have big eyeholes. They should not obscure vision or impair breathing if they slip. The same applies to hats, scarfs and veils.
A good alternative to masks is non-toxic, hypo-allergenic Halloween makeup, which provides a safe substitute and gives a child a chance to be creative.
Accessories, such as knives, wands and swords should be made of soft and flexible materials.
And finally, shoes should be flat and comfortable. High heels or a wooden stump may be the perfect touch for a costume, but these might lead to falls.
For trick-or-treating visits, the federal commission suggests going to the homes of familiar neighbors who have lights turned on outside.
Children should be with an adult. At the least, a child should be with an older sibling or a group.
The safety commission cautions children against entering any home unless accompanied by a parent. A child should be told that if invited into a home, he or she should politely decline to enter and quickly move on.
Children should avoid all dogs, even familiar ones, because a child's ghoulish outfit may provoke even your neighbor's friendly pooch.
Parents should establish a time for children to be home. They should draw a map of a child's prearranged route so the youngster can be found in any emergency.
The Los Angeles Police Department cautions children to stay on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, the LAPD suggests staying as far left of the roadside as possible; as always, one should walk facing traffic.
The police department also urges children to avoid crossing through yards, between parked cars or in the middle of blocks. And the trick-or-treaters are urged to walk on well-lit streets, avoid alleys and stay away from unoccupied structures and lots where an attacker might hide.
Before crossing the street, children should remove masks or any costume accessory that might impair vision and should make sure flashlights are on.
If a child is on a bicycle, his costume should be short enough to avoid tangling in the chain or spokes. The bike should have a light as well as reflective tape or stickers, and the rider should wear a helmet and remove anything that might reduce vision.
A child should know that eating unwrapped candies or fruits may be dangerous. The LAPD suggests that children wait until they get home so they and their parents can carefully inspect each piece.
Dolgovin, who teaches young children about poison prevention in her "Smart and Safe Youngsters" program at Pomona Valley Hospital, admits that "my kids were too impatient to wait for me to hand-inspect their treats, so I put together a smaller 'safe' goody bag where familiar neighbors put their candies. That way my impatient kids could have some treats before I started careful hand inspection."
Throw away candy or food not sealed in the original wrapper or container. Check that candy wrappers do not have any punctures or tears. Do not rely solely on having candies X-rayed at a local hospital because X-rays do not detect poisons, glass or plastics.
In sorting the candies and treats, Keith Noren, a child-safety expert and co-owner of Safer Baby! Family Safety Center of Studio City, suggests that parents with "children of different ages should sort the candies to make sure that younger kids don't get hold of small hard candies, peanuts or other objects that may get lodged in a youngster's throat."