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A guide to help your children have a safe Halloween Add to ...

The question: My kids are at the age where they can go trick or treating on their own, but I’m still very worried about their safety. What can I do to make ensure things go smoothly?

Soon young ghosts and goblins will be pacing our streets in search of free candy and unsuspecting souls to scare. The following suggestions will help ensure a safe and happy Halloween.

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1. Costume conundrums: Making sure that your child is highly visible on dark streets is critical. This is particularly important if your child will be walking on a roadway, crossing a street, walking in areas that are poorly lit, or travelling without an adult. Visibility can be increased by choosing costumes with light coloured material augmented with reflective tape or arm bands. The creative use of glow sticks can both enhance a costume and increase visibility.

At least one person in the group should carry a flashlight. Children should avoid wearing masks as these can potentially interfere with a child’s vision and peripheral vision making it hard to see obstacles, navigate stairs, and spot oncoming traffic. Instead, show your artistic side with hypo-allergenic face paint.

Ensure that your child’s costume allows them to wear proper footwear that will keep toes warm, dry, and minimize the risk of tripping. Finally, since this is Canada, expect the temperature on Halloween night to be cold, even below freezing. Choose a costume that is big enough to allow layering of warm clothes, including hats and mitts if required. Don’t make the classic mistake of trying on costumes over light clothing, forgetting that additional room for coats and sweaters is required.

2. Trick-or-treating tribulations. Children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult or responsible teen. Older children may be able to make the rounds without a parent as long as they are travelling in a group of three or more and will be knocking on doors in a familiar neighbourhood.

Discuss the route that your child will be walking in advance and consider sending them with a cellphone. Remind your child about the importance of always staying together as a group and about walking one side of the street at a time instead of crisscrossing the road. If a formal curfew doesn’t exist in your town (in my community trick-or-treaters must be off the street by 8 p.m.), set one with your child before they leave and make sure that they are wearing a watch. Insist that your child not eat any treats until they get home so that you can inspect them to make sure they are appropriate.

3. Home owners: If you are new to a neighbourhood, check with a neighbour to see how many little ghosts to expect at your door. Ensure that your property is well lit, especially the stairs, and that potential obstacles and wet leaves have been removed from walking paths.

Choose your treats with care. While I believe that candy can have a place in a healthy diet as a treat, keep in mind that kids will be coming home with large pillow cases stuffed to the brim with sugary goodies. Cereal bars, water bottles, and single-serve packages of crackers are relatively healthier options or consider non-food treats such as small toys, pencils, or glow sticks. Choosing a peanut-free treat is always appreciated by those with allergies.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He’s a staunch advocate for children’s health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.

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