By Dr. Barbara Gaines, Director of Trauma and Injury Prevention
Halloween is my favorite holiday. For me, it’s all about the kids. I was never into the scarier stuff, or even the parties. But rather, the excitement and anticipation of kids as they figure out the perfect costume, plan their night, and sort their candy. There is nothing better than holding the little hand, ringing the doorbell, and seeing the look of pure delight when someone drops a handful of treats into a bag. It’s about listening to their excited voices as they plot the route, making sure that the house that gives the full size candy bars isn’t missed. It’s about standing at the door trying to guess who that adorable little Cookie Monster is, and figuring out what treat they want. As a doctor Mom, however, there are a few other things to think about, so that there aren’t any holiday tragedies.
First and foremost, I tell kids to watch out for cars (note: motor vehicles are the number one killer of kids). There is nothing more horrible than being in the emergency department on October 31st, and seeing a little “ghost” brought in with real blood on their costume. In general, kids and cars aren’t a great mix, and this is even more true for Halloween. Children need to be reminded about street safety, and especially that just because it’s Halloween, the rules haven’t changed. With all the excitement, not to mention the extra sugar, adult supervision is absolutely required. No one should go out alone. And drivers beware, kids are potentially everywhere, and can dart out between parked cars or at the end of a driveway unexpectedly.
Costume design is important too. As you and your kids are designing a costume, think about a couple of things. First is the “walkability” factor; if the costume is too unwieldy, kids will have trouble maneuvering uneven pavement and steps, and more easily lose their balance and fall (note: falls are the number 1 mechanism of injury in kids!). Second, certain costume design elements are potentially hazardous, for example, masks that obscure the eyes, and long, trailing fabric that can either get tangled around obstacles or trip a child. In general, I’m not a great fan of masks; most of the time they’re not very comfortable, so kids take them off (and the parent is stuck carrying them). If they are on a child’s head, they often slide in such a way that kids can’t see. Non-toxic face paint is a better alternative, especially for the younger crowd. If the neighborhood trick-or-treat time is in the evening, bright colored costumes, so that kids can be seen, are nice. Obviously, some of the popular costumes (think Darth Vader or a witch) are rather dark, so strategically placed reflective tape can help your child stay visible. Glow sticks or glow necklaces also can help increase a child’s visibility, as can a good, old fashioned flash light (or light saber). Finally, remember the weather. Costumes that are loose enough to allow for layers underneath are usually most successful, especially if the temperature turns unseasonably warm or cold (isn’t that the norm in Pittsburgh?!).
In general, I’m less concerned about tainted candy than about the potential for physical injury, but that being said, there are some people out there we have to watch out for. Kids should trick-or-treat in an area that they know, and parents should know where their kids are and when they are expected home. One of the traditions at my house is the post trick-or-treat candy exchange. After the kids are done collecting their candy, they dump the bags out on the living room floor and then trade with each other for their favorites. This gives me a chance to look over the candy, and remove anything that looks objectionable (homemade, not in the original wrapper, dirty). And if I’m lucky, they let me pick out something too!
So, may you have a happy and safe Halloween, one full of laughter, and not tears, and may there be no homework!!