Halloween Safety Tips As Families Prepare for Trick or Treat

Wizards and princesses and clowns, oh my! These are just some of the spooky and lovable characters headed to your town next week!

Halloween is on its way, and soon the neighborhoods will be filled with costumed folks young and young-at-heart venturing door to door in search of festive treats. You and your family may find yourselves amongst a horde of hungry zombies clamoring for chocolates instead of brains.

Why do we trick or treat? This beloved Autumn tradition of sporting fun costumes dates to the middle ages. Back then, folks would dress as demons to ward off evil spirits during a time when one year moved to the next to protect against malevolent spirits. They believed that any spirits that meant harm would confuse the costumed humans with their own kind and would leave them unharmed.

Over time, this tradition would come to be known as, “All Hallows Eve,” or “All Soul’s Day,” when the Catholic Church used it as a means of turning more people over to their faith. However, instead of dressing as demons and evil spirits, people would dress as saints and angels. Eventually, children and the occasional down-on-his-luck adult would go door to door in these costumes begging for food or money in exchange for songs and prayers.

Fast forward to the 1920’s in the United States: Irish and Scottish communities began to revive the old world practice of donning costumes and going door-to-door in hopes of benefiting from their neighbors’ kindness. During this time, young people began taking to pranking others to blow off Halloween steam. It’s theorized that this pranking led to the modern, family-friendly practice of trick-or-treating by folks giving these tricksters treats to keep them at bay.

Now that trick-or-treating is more about the treats (although unfortunately the ‘trick’ part is very much still in practice), and evil spirits are less of a concern, how can we keep our little monsters safe from modern day Halloween hazards?

Trick or Treat times range between the hours of 4pm and 8pm in most towns in New Hampshire. This time of year, the sun begins to go down before quarter of 5pm. This means that the entirety or majority of treat collecting will be done after dark. Carrying a flashlight to illuminate the path of your little ones’ candy pursuit will help to cut down on the risk of tumbling over otherwise unseen rocks, cracks, roots, and other trip hazards.

Establishing a five-step rule will help eliminate the risk of your little Elsa or Olaf from getting lost among a crowd of other Frozen fanatics. Have your little one count aloud to five should he or she need to step away from you, either to investigate a neighbor’s lawn decorations (making sure to keep away from any flames) or a fellow trick-or-treater’s elaborate costume. The number of steps can be increased for older or more cautious children.

Families with older kids might find it helpful to create a buddy system with younger siblings. In familiar and trusted neighborhoods, big brother or sister can take his or her sibling around during the lighter portion of the festivities for a little independent trick-or-treating. The older sibling can be trusted with a cellular phone to contact parents in case of emergency, and to report to a designated adult at a safe, pre-determined location after their allotted alone time has passed to continue trick-or-treating with their chaperone.

Have a conversation with your children about stranger etiquette before embarking on your candy quest. Make sure your little adventurers know not to go anywhere with anyone they do not know, including other children. Be sure that your plumbers and princesses confirm that they will not enter any haunted houses without a trusted adult to protect them from any suspicious ghouls inside. Try to trick-or-treat in familiar neighborhoods, or the neighborhoods of your children’s friends so that should your child get separated for any reason, they have a safe house to report to until you can be reunited.

Once you are home for the night, let your kids know that their newly acquired treasures must first pass a “grownup check.” Gently explain that you need to make sure that it’s good enough for them to eat, and that although this is the one and only exception to accepting candy from strangers, it is nonetheless still candy from strangers and you need to make sure it is safe.

During your inspection, inspect each piece of candy under a bright light, looking for expired candy, candy with strange lumps in the wrappers, candy that looks as though it was previously opened, candy with an unusual smell, discolored or stained candy, anything from a company you have not heard of, candy with different color or pieces inside than what is pictured on the wrapper or box. If you should find any suspicious candies, discard them right away. Cut any fruits you come across into small pieces inspecting for needles, razors, pins or glass, and be sure to throw away any repackaged or home-made treats from strangers’ houses, to air on the side of caution.

Halloween is a spooky and fun time for families everywhere, but it comes with its own risks. But as is the case with everything, a little precaution goes a long way. For more information and resources on trick-or-treat and Halloween safety, visit www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/index.htm and visit the Around Town section of this paper for your town’s trick-or-treat times.