What parents should really be afraid of on Halloween night

As published by The Seattle Times on March 11, 2016

It’s a dark night, and big groups of frantically excited kids in masks and costumes are darting along sidewalks, bouncing off the curbs.

What could possibly go wrong?

Kids, forget about vampires. You need to be scared about cars.

Halloween is a lot of fun, but it is also a lot riskier than other days of the year, too.

According to the child-advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide, twice as many kids are killed walking around on Halloween as on any other day of the year. The combination of October darkness and kids out and about — sometimes unattended — is a pretty potent witches’ brew of problems.

ut there are precautions parents can take to make sure their offspring stay safe.

The Seattle Police Department recommends on its website that kids take flashlights out trick-or-treating, and that both parents and kids remember how tough it is for drivers to see at night — and especially, at dusk. And, of course, kids should be told not to weave between parked cars to get across the street.

The candy will wait. They can cross at the corner.

Costumes themselves can cause safety issues, too.

Masks “really obscure the peripheral vision,” said Dr. Alex Hamling, a pediatrician at Pacific Medical Centers in Bothell, adding that there are “just so many more children on street corners and crossing the streets at inappropriate areas and times.

“Car drivers just don’t have the same wherewithal to see them.”

If drivers do happen to be out on Halloween, SPD reminds them to take it slow. Hamling also advises that drivers do some planning ahead of time if they’ll be out that night.

“Know what time trick-or-treating is happening in your area,” he said, noting that early on and late in the evening, you see isolated, much smaller groups, which can catch drivers off guard and lead to accidents.

Safe Kids Worldwide adds the sage advice to keep the iPhone down and your eyes peeled for kids. Your apps can wait, too.

The most important part of any costume may just be the part that lights up. Don’t have that? Get it, says Safe Kids Worldwide. A flashlight, glow sticks, glow jewelry or reflective tape will work. If the costume’s color isn’t light or bright, having reflectors or a light source is key, so pay attention, especially if your kids will be Batman, a witch or a vampire — dressed in all black for trick-or-treating.

Though everyone knows fire is a hazard, but most people don’t think about jack-o’-lanterns on the porch as an issue.

But on a crowded stoop, with crowds of kid zombies angling for M & M’s and jostling for the best spot, a pumpkin with a lit candle inside can turn dangerous fast. Long wigs and draping costumes on kids need to be well away from any candlelit jack-o’-lanterns. Move pumpkins away from the spots where trick-or-treaters convene, says SPD, or use a battery-operated light or glow stick inside.

The yard around the house should be kid-proofed for visitors on Saturday, too, according to the SPD safety guidelines. (For instance, the scary manual hedge clippers should probably come off the porch now.) Turning the outside lights on helps with safety a lot, and you’ll be less likely to find a trail of fallen toddlers and irate injured parents on your front walk, too.

Big plastic bags should be kept away from the little ones who are out trolling for candy, according to the CDC. They’re a suffocation hazard, so never leave a little one alone with a plastic bag, which could end up on a face or over a head. (Yes, stores still sell the plastic Halloween sacks for trick-or-treaters, even in bagless Seattle.) Paper bags or plastic pumpkin containers can make decent alternatives.

“This is the one time of the year that you break the rule ‘don’t take candy from strangers,’” said Hamling. He emphasized that kids need clear ground rules that they should never enter a stranger’s house or car. And they should never eat candy that has been unwrapped. “Just to be on the safe side,” he said.

Parents also need to make sure kids wait to snack on the candy until they’re at home and an adult has checked their take. Hard candy is considered a choking hazard for kids 7 and under, and little trinkets that aren’t candy can end up in mouths of kids under 3. (A plastic spider ring is a treasure, but not when it’s mistaken as candy and swallowed.)

For kids with food allergies, it’s important for parents to be especially vigilant to make sure there’s no free-for-all. Hamling recommends that a grown-up always be present with children who have serious food allergies and carry an epinephrine pen if that has been prescribed.

The Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by the group Food Allergy Research & Education has encouraged people to display pumpkins painted teal blue at houses where the residents are giving out prizes and trinkets in place of food treats, which is especially helpful to families with food-allergic kids.

Finally, make sure costumes are safe so there aren’t incidents with sharp edges — say, a first-grade gladiator or third-grade ninja falling on a pointy plastic sword, or a toy gun being mistaken as the real thing, says SPD.

Staying visible in traffic and crossing safely are the major issues out there on Halloween.

If kids manage those, their biggest risk is probably their parents getting hold of their candy stash before it’s Nov. 1.



Jillian O'Connor: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Alexander Hamling, MD, MBA, FAAP, practices pediatrics at the Pacific Medical Center Canyon Park clinic.