Thursday, October 28, 2010

HALLOWEEN SAFETY- It's Up to You

It is that time of year again....the spooky season. For most of us because of what we do, the world is a scary place enough as it is. Still, this is a really fun time for the children and a chance to escape from reality for a little while for all of us. To make this an especially fun time, we must take precautions and focus on safety first.

The most important thing we can do as parents to keep our children safe is to plan ahead and be prepared. That is true of any situation but especially so during Halloween. Consequently, we need to plan this Halloween weekend in advance.

As we plan ahead, we must remember that costume safety is one of the most important aspects of Halloween. We spend so much time and money often looking for the perfect outfit for the child that we often overlook safety precautions. Check that all parts of the costume are secure and not too restrictive. Insist that your child can move quickly and easily in the costume and that there is nothing too tightly around the neck or face that may cause difficulty breathing or seeing. Many masks can be so restrictive that the child cannot breath, see or hear properly. Make sure that the child has either glow sticks, reflective tape or a hand-held light that will make him easily visible to traffic. Children get so excited and caught up in the moment on this special night that they often forget to be careful crossing the street. It is your responsibility to remind them and to be there, or have an older, responsible child there when the younger children forget so you can protect them.

Plan a specific route. Know the trick-or-treating schedule for your community, the times, and who and where the sexual predators are in your neighborhoods. Violent predators are required to turn their porch lights out on Halloween night and not answer the door. However, it is prudent not to leave the safety of our children at the mercy of these individuals and we must, therefore, know who and where they are ahead of time. The safety of your children begins with one person: you. The next line of defense is your child, so you must prepare that child with the rules and insist that he follow them, no exceptions.

For older children who do not plan to trick-or-treat, they will often have a school dance or function. This Halloween is on a weekend, so that may not be an option. Perhaps your older child will be planning to go to a party with friends at a home. I would only allow this if you personally know the child and the parent of the home in question. If so, insist that you talk personally with the adult that will be on hand. Ensure there will be supervision the entire time, no alcohol, etc. Have a solid pick-up time that allows for your child to have a good time but is not so long that many will have left the party and your child may be alone.

Still another common plan for older kids is to see a movie, usually a horror film, on Halloween. This is acceptable if the children or going as a group or your child will be with at least 1 or 2 friends. You want to make sure the kids get safely to and from the theatre. Do not allow your child to simply go to the mall, wander around a few hours, see a movie then plan to meet you a few blocks down the street at some later point. There is too much left to chance in this scenario. Have a specific drop off and pick up location, preferably at the theatre itself. If the child is old enough to drive herself, insist that she park at the theatre, under a street light. Remind her and her friends not to wander around but to go directly from her car to inside the theatre and vice versa when she leaves. Make sure she has her cell phone (with her and fully charged) and insist that she call you when she gets to the theatre and when she is leaving.

If your children will be going for the traditional trick-or-treating, there are several safety precautions that you must take. Design a specific route based on areas you are familiar with that are well lit and not isolated. If your older child will be coming along to help, instruct them to carry a flashlight, stay away from dimly lit areas, only visit homes with porch lights on, stay away from cars and keep the smaller children in view and close by at all times. Make sure the older child escorts the younger children across streets, up to doors, everywhere. Older kids will often get distracted (texting, talking on cell phones, etc.). Make it clear to the older children that they are responsible for the safety of the younger kids and that is their number one priority. In turn, instruct the younger children to mind the older kids and you expect them to be on their best behavior. Make sure the older kids have their cell phones handy, charged up, and will be checking in often. Give them a specific time to be back to a specific meeting point. Do not allow the children to take any shortcuts. They must stay on the route and in well lit areas.

Follow along with the children as they are out on this festive night. For older kids, they may try to discourage this. Insist the children go in numbers and stay together. If an older child is not with the younger ones escorting them from house-to-house, it is up to you.  As you escort the children, make sure when people open their doors to the trick-or-treaters, they see you close by. Stay visible, both to your child and to other people. This is true even if you take the child to an event. It is important that your child and others know you are there, you are watching and paying attention.

Alternatively, you can take your children to a sponsored/sanctioned Halloween event either at a school, church, library, etc. Many communities are encouraging people to seek out these alternative choices to traditional trick-or-treating. You will find this to be a safe and fun alternative for the children where they will be showered with accolades for their clever costumes, play games, stay warm, and enjoy plenty of hot chocolate and goodies.

Speaking of those goodies, we must always remember that we need to have the candy and treats checked before the children try to eat them. Your local fire department or police department will probably have a special area where they will be checking the children's treats. Many of the sponsored events will have a special kiosk where the treats are checked as well. If you cannot find such help in your area, you can check the items yourself. Do not allow your child to eat anything that appears to have been opened or tampered with in any way (faded wrappers, wrappers with holes or tears or anything that appears to have been re-wrapped) nor should they eat anything that was homemade. Make sure that all wrappers are in tact and original. If you child has any food allergies, take that extra caution that you undoubtedly take already and closely inspect the items. As the saying goes, "When in doubt, throw it out."

Lastly, remind your child and other children that may be going along not to talk to people they do not know. Tell them not to go near cars. Remind them to stay together and that you will be close by. There will be people admiring their costumes and that is expected, but your child needs to know that they are not supposed to get close to people on the street or in homes or in cars that they do not know.

If we are all prepared and take precautions, this will be a safe and happy Halloween for all of us. Let's enjoy this Halloween, keep it safe and make it fun!

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