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Tips to keep your kids safe on Halloween

From minimizing candy overload to inspecting costumes, find out how to keep your little ghosts safe and happy this weekend.

The story about keeping safe on Halloween is not new. But these days, there seem to be more and more novel hazards. Here’s a guide to Halloween safety that offers traditional safety precautions with a twist:

Oversized superhero costumes and princess gowns dominate the young Halloween market. Regardless of what your child is dressed as, make sure the costume is flame retardant. This includes wigs and accessories, too. You also need to avoid tripping hazards like long hems, improperly fitting shoes, and long wigs.

Props also pose potential dangers as well, like those swords with sharp tips. Make sure that tips are blunted, swords are soft, and nothing can impale.

Glow-in-the-dark accessories are fantastic — reflective stickers attached to costumes make it easier to be seen at night. Glow sticks are also a favorite, but the liquid inside glow sticks is made of dibutyl phthalate and is meant to stay inside — toddlers shouldn’t be allowed to chew on them and older kids shouldn’t break open the sticks and use the fluorescent liquid as body paint.

Face paint
Most safety experts agree that face paint is safer than masks. But masks can limit peripheral vision or can even fall down, completely covering the eyes. Losing the ability to see well is far more dangerous than a little makeup — kids can trip, fall, even walk into a street and not see an oncoming car. If your child does use a mask, make sure the eyeholes are sufficiently large and the mask is steady in place.

Despite concerns about chemicals, most face paints are safe and non-toxic. If you are a concerned mother, the FDA approves all color additives in face paints, cosmetics, and theatrical makeup. The FDA lists each ingredient on its website and recommends that parents cross-reference the ingredients on the face paint label with the ingredients on their site. If an ingredient is not on the website list, it’s not FDA approved.

While toxicity is not generally an issue with face paints, allergic reaction can be. Some ingredients in face paints can cause swelling, redness, itching, or burning. It is always a good idea to test a product before you use it. Remember that “non-toxic” does not necessarily mean “safe for skin” or “FDA approved” and that “washable” refers to fabric, not to skin.

Trick-or-treat bags
There has been some debate over whether or not vinyl bags are safe because last year some vinyl lunchboxes were found to contain lead. When it comes to Halloween, as long as the candy is wrapped, these single-use bags don’t present a problem.

The bigger concern is the risk of suffocation with any bag — particularly for a young child who plays with the bag by putting it over his head. Try trading a plastic bag for a hard container (there are lots available in the shape of pumpkins or various characters) or even decorate a small pillowcase from home.

Historically, the main issue related to candy was the risk of choking. Anything the size and shape of a grape is a chokeable candy for a child under the age of 3 or 4. Remove all such candies from your young child’s bag and double-check older siblings’ bags.

A newer concern about candies is nut allergy. If you are supervising a child with nut allergy, an EpiPen — auto-injector for allergic emergencies (anaphylaxis) — should be on hand. Don’t allow candy consumption until the candy is checked. And at your home, consider a nut-free candy bowl for trick-or-treaters or going nut free altogether.

Dress-up jewelry and accessories
For young children, jewels and accessories often represent choking hazards. This includes earrings, rings, and hair accessories. Most fake jewels these days are made of plastic, but non-plastic jewelry is often nickel, which is a common skin irritant. Try to keep metallic fake jewels away from the skin. Remember, too, that necklaces and hoods can be strangulation hazards.

Other basic safety items
To minimize candy overload, feed your kids dinner before trick-or-treating. And always check candy before letting them eat it — don’t let them eat anything that is open or unwrapped. Teach your kids to only go to houses where the lights are on and accept treats at the door but never go inside a house. Older kids should never trick-or-treat alone — ideally they will be with at least two friends, but groups of 3-5 are better. If you aren’t trick-or-treating with your child, make sure you know their route and set a curfew. Cell phones can be carried in case of emergency.

The old rules of the road need to be reinforced on Halloween too: Look both ways before crossing street; cross at crosswalks; walk on sidewalks, not in middle of street; and walk, don’t run.

For more parenting tips from Dr. Cara Natterson, visit