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A Howling Halloween

by Elisa All

I don’t know about you, but it took me the entire month of September to get into the new school-year groove. And now that it’s officially fall and we’re settled in to a crazy but comfortable routine of soccer and football practices and games, chess and volleyball events and piano lessons, all the kids can talk about is Halloween. And it’s no wonder – by the end of September, orange and black lights lit up the neighborhood and pumpkins peered from store windows.

It seems like the costumes are growing up along with the kids. No longer is it about cute – gone are Cinderella, Buzz Lightyear and cute puppy costumes. It’s all about spooky. Volunteering in a second-grade classroom last week, I heard kids trying to out-do each other on whose costume would be scariest (vampires, corpse brides and mummies all made the list).

We attended a football game recently and bought our twins cheerleader outfits to wear, and, as an added bonus, they decided to wear them as Halloween costumes. However, I was just informed that one will be a “mummy cheerleader” and the other a “witch cheerleader.” Their brother will add to the fright fest by dressing as a “zombie football player.”

Sure, it’s all in fun, but Halloween can be a challenge if you don’t set guidelines for your kids. Here’s how to enjoy a healthier Halloween with your children.

Safe Trick-or-Treating

As you head out to trick-or-treat make sure to use the sidewalk, not the street. Kids should be accompanied by an adult, plan their route ahead of time and share it with their families, says the American Red Cross. Remind kids to cross at street corners and only accept treats at the door (never go into a stranger’s house). Kids should trick-or-treat in well-known neighborhoods on well-lit streets at homes that have a porch light on. Children shouldn’t ride bikes, in-line skate or skateboard as they trick-or-treat. Teach kids their home phone numbers and how to call 9-1-1 (free from any phone) if they have an emergency or get lost.

Careful Costumes

Create a costume that is safe, bright and reflective. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it is a good idea to add reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for visibility. Kids’ shoes should fit well and costumes should be short enough to prevent tripping or contact with flame. Kids should wear non-toxic makeup and hats rather than masks, which can obstruct eyesight. If you’re using a makeup product you’ve never used before, try it out on your arm for a couple of days to check for an allergic reaction before putting it on your face, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Remove all makeup before going to bed since wearing makeup can irritate the skin. While colorful contact lenses may be popular among older kids, the FDA says they should not be used without a professional recommendation as they can cause injuries.

Decorating Do’s and Don’ts

Decorating for Halloween is great fun, but you have to be careful. The Fire Department notes that you shouldn’t overload electrical outlets with holiday lighting or special effects, and do not block exit doors with displays. Since kids may be out after dark, move things like garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations so kids don’t trip. To improve safety, replace any burned-out light bulbs and sweep wet leaves off sidewalks and steps.

One serious Halloween hazard is the jack o’ lantern. Children and pets are naturally curious and may try to investigate lit pumpkins and either be burned or knock them over. Keep jack o’ lanterns and hot electric lamps away from drapes, decorations, flammable materials or areas where children and pets will be.

Terrific Treats

Sweets are a big part of Halloween and since it’s just one day a year, it may be OK to let kids enjoy the bounty (within reason, of course!). But even though tampering is rare, consider examining all treats. Throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items. Make sure items that can cause choking (such as hard candies) are only given to those older than 3. In general, toss out any homemade candy or baked goods (unless you trust the person who made them), and fruit should be washed thoroughly, inspected for holes and small punctures, and cut open before allowing children to eat it.

Perhaps the best idea is to re-think what to give kids for Halloween. There are plenty of healthy treats to offer, such as granola bars, raisins and trail mix. You may even consider non-food treats like small coloring books, stickers or pens and pencils. Try something new this year – it may just be the best Halloween ever!

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