Ensuring more treats than tricks

Halloween is coming up. How can I make Halloween an enjoyable and safe holiday for my kids? How can I keep them from eating too many sweets at once?

Most children look forward to Halloween. They can stay up past bedtime, dress up as their heroes (or villains), watch scary movies, and — especially — eat lots of candy. But Halloween has also become a special concern for parents in recent years, as safety concerns have heightened.

Unlike other holidays in which children celebrate with relatives and friends, the Halloween trick-or-treat ritual exposes children to strangers, the hazards of nighttime traffic, and food from sources that cannot be easily traced.

Despite these hazards, children can have fun and enjoy a safe Halloween with some basic precautions and assistance from neighbors.

Children under 10 should always be accompanied by an adult. To determine whether older children should go out without adult supervision, consider a variety of other factors — such as the safety of the neighborhood and the size of the trick-or-treat group.

If you do allow your children to go unaccompanied, make sure they travel in groups to maximize their safety. It is a good idea to investigate the planned route by walking the area with the children during daylight hours in order to familiarize them with the neighborhood and the traffic rules. Have them avoid busy thoroughfares. If you live in an apartment building, double check building policies on trick-or-treating through the hallways.

Make sure to tell your children — and remind them again before they go out — to stay away from strangers. They should only approach houses that are brightly lit and should never enter a stranger’s house. They should also be sure to carry a flashlight after dusk.

To monitor your children’s progress, you may want to prepare a list of neighbors and their telephone numbers. Ask specific neighbors to call you once your children have reached their houses. The length of time your children should spend trick-or-treating will be determined by the size of the neighborhood and the number of neighbors participating.

Once your children are prepared, make sure that their costumes are safe. If your children’s costumes involve makeup, use non-toxic, hypoallergenic products for face and body paint. The night before your children go trick-or-treating, apply some makeup to make sure they are not allergic to it. Dress them in bright-colored, flame-resistant costumes appropriate for mid-autumn temperatures — which can be quite cold in northern cities. Avoid masks, as they can obstruct views of traffic and other hazards, as well as baggy or large costumes, which can easily get caught, be stepped on, or catch fire from jack-o-lanterns.

Although children may want to eat some candy along the way, you should discourage this as much as possible. This year, Halloween falls on a Monday, so remind your children that eating too much candy may keep them awake at night, which can make them tired for school the next day. You can also make rules about eating candy on weekdays.

Once they are home with their candy, carefully inspect all of the treats for any evidence of tampering, including pinholes or rips in the packaging of the candy. Be sure to notify the police of any treats that appear to have been tampered with purposefully. Any unpackaged candy or fruit should be discarded.

Parents of smaller children should watch out for choking hazards, such as small, hard candies or peanuts.

When the goodies pass inspection, ration their consumption to small amounts each day. Eating too much candy leads to tooth decay and can cause nausea, headaches, and hyperactivity. Setting limits and letting your children know the downsides to eating candy may make them think twice before consuming too much of it.