By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | Revised October 8, 2014
It is a child’s job to have fun on Halloween and it is a parent’s job to keep them safe while they do that.
“Mischief Night” or “Devil’s Night,” the night before Halloween, some children may take part in playing pranks with friends. These pranks can be relatively harmless like toilet papering trees and bushes, soaping windows and ringing doorbells and running away. Others can be harmful like eggs filled with hair-removing foam, arson, tossed cabbages and cemetery vandalism.
If you are a parent of a teenager or a preteen you will want to have a serious discussion concerning their possible role in Mischief Night pranks and the law. If your child is with a group that gets caught vandalizing a cemetery— even if they did not take part— they will be held just as accountable as the teen who broke headstones or spray-painted memorials. In other words— parents or guardians will end up paying a portion of the damages that could possibly add up to thousands of dollars, plus the costs of attorney’s fees… well, you get the message.
Another risk for children can be unintended injury to themselves. Recent vandalism was to cemetery markers that weighed as much as 2,000 pounds apiece. Just imagine a child on the wrong side of that headstone as it was pushed and toppled over.
Parents can role play with children how to excuse themselves from illegal behavior:
“That sounds like fun but my parents would be mad if I did something like that – I am going home.”
“Are you insane?! I’m going home where people are sane.”
“This is wrong; I’m not getting involved in vandalism.”
When one child stands up and flatly refuses to vandalize or other illegal acts it will give other kids the courage to walk away, too. Perhaps now would be the time to also bring up civic responsibility and proper respect of cemeteries.
Organize Safe Fun for Any Age
The safest option for Halloween is to have a party organized for a group of friends from school, church, family or other group. Children from age two enjoy dressing up, playing pretend and having delicious goodies available to eat. Making decorations they help create gives a sense of pride and ownership in helping. Kids helping to plan the refreshments and treats to be served only increases the excitement. Halloween themed games and age appropriate scary movies will provide enough laughs, giggles and squeals for one and all!
• On a sturdy surface have children pull out the pumpkin seeds that can be toasted and enjoyed as a treat.
• Young children should not use knives to carve pumpkins. Children can use a marker to draw a face then have parents or older sibling cut the actual pumpkin. Children can also paint pumpkins instead of cutting them so they remain edible.
• Use a thick cloth or apron and wear gloves to prevent injuries when cutting with a sharp knife.
• Be aware of any hands nearby, especially your own. Ask children to watch from a safe distance.
• Saw with a short, serrated blade rather than slicing; straight edged blades are not recommended.
• Always point the blade away from you.
• Use a flashlight, glow stick or light-emitting diodes (LED) in place of a candle. If you must use a candle, then a small votive is the best bet.
• Pumpkins with a candle should be placed in a safe, sturdy location away from any high-traffic areas to prevent fires.
• Feed children a light snack before going out so it will be easier to resist temptation before parents check treats for tampering.
• Costumes should not restrict free movement of feet, legs, arms or hands. Costumes that are too baggy or too tight could easily tangle or trip kids.
• Costumes should not impair their vision or ability to breathe.
• Makeup is much safer than any mask. Test a small amount of makeup a couple of days beforehand to make sure it is safe to use. If there is any swelling, rash or other adverse reaction, discard it.
• Be wary of wearing any contact lenses that were not prescribed by a doctor and packaged by professionals.
• Store-bought costumes and masks should be labeled as fire retardant, fire resistant or fireproof.
• Wigs, hats or headgear should be labeled as flame resistant.
• Props like swords, daggers, laser guns, knives, canes, brooms and so on should be harmless. Toy guns and realistic replicas are a bad idea.
• A child or their costume should be easily seen by drivers or have reflective materials attached.
• Flashlights, glow sticks, glow bracelets, glow necklaces, reflective tape or LED lights are all helpful for visibility.
• Do not shine a flashlight or laser at vehicles or into the eyes of drivers; blinded drivers could have an accident or strike trick-or-treaters.
• There is power in numbers! Children should trick-or-treat in pairs or groups, the more the better. Instruct kids not to stray from the group.
• Children should be supervised by a responsible, trusted adult or older child while trick-or-treating.
• Create a trick-or-treating map or route to follow and make sure another family member has a copy. Make a list of trick-or-treaters’ costumes who will be with the group: Adam-pirate, Barbara-princess, Candis-fairy, Diana-ghost and so on. A group photo would be a help in the event of an emergency.
• The chaperone should have a cell phone, watch and know their location at any given time during the outing. Time will pass quickly so a time limit should be established with children before going out.
• The chaperone should stand so they can be seen by the person opening the front door. Just like store greeters, standing by sends a clear message.
• Children should only knock or ring the doorbell and never enter a home without a parent’s prior permission.
• Children should only approach homes that are well-lit and/or decorated for Halloween. Do not touch any decorations, especially any lit by candles.
• Do not approach overly cluttered or unsafe driveways, walkways or entrances. Unfamiliar areas could increase the likelihood of tripping or falling.
• Stay on sidewalks or the shoulders of roads and never run across a street or roadway without looking both ways. Cross only at corners or crosswalks.
• Walk only, no running.
• Keep in mind that it’s harder to judge distances correctly at dusk or after dark.
• Do not use shortcuts or go into isolated areas. Do not cut through backyards or parks.
• Do not enter closed gates where animals could be present.
• Children should never approach people in vehicles unless instructed to do so by a parent. Never accept a ride from a anyone.
• Instruct children that if anyone tries to pull or carry them anywhere to kick and resist while yelling, “Help! Fire! This is not my father/mother.”
• Have children bring all treats home for a closer inspection by adults. Discard any loose or unwrapped treats. Throw out any homemade treats. Examine fruit and discard suspicious items. Be wary of small candies as a choking hazard in households with small children. Better yet, throw out anything not commercially packaged and sealed.
• Say, “Thank you,” to people whether you get a lot of treats or nothing at all.
Halloween is a fun time that children will remember for a lifetime and with a little planning and care it will also be safe. Children are not developmentally ready to make 100% sound judgments about safety so parents and caregivers must fill that gap until they are capable.
Halloween does not only happen out in the neighborhood, it happens at home, too.
Halloween Safe at Home
• Take care with pets to prevent an escape or the biting of trick-or-treaters. A pet’s feelings may be hurt if locked in a bedroom for three hours but it will certainly be safe from harm.
• Never invite trick-or-treating children into your home.
• Never leave your home unattended on Halloween night as burglars or vandals may visit.
• Never leave a child alone to hand out treats unless a responsible adult or teenager is nearby.
• Be especially alert to pedestrians if you must drive on Halloween night. Reducing speed is an added precaution.
• Give small items in sealed packages that are safe for children with or without allergies and reduces concern by parents: Toothbrushes, lip balm, plastic coin holders, noise makers, stickers, pens, pencils, erasers, plastic jewelry, party favors, whistles, balls, puzzles, barrettes, hairpins, combs, toy cars, water color sets, chalks, comic books, crayons and coloring books, travel size shampoos and soaps, plastic figures and animals. Look for safe trick-or-treat items at dollar stores, discount stores, pharmacies and grocery stores.
How can parents deal with all that leftover candy on Halloween?
There are options to the traditional Halloween celebrations; you can donate candy to our military personnel through the Halloween BuyBack Program and your children can learn about helping others through trick-or-treating for UNICEF. Get more information below:
Parents in my Parents Anonymous group shared a few ideas for you in order to ‘spread the wealth.’ Candy could be donated to a favorite physician’s office for the public candy dish. Local libraries can hand out candy to patrons who return books on time. Candy can be donated to senior citizens’ housing centers. One parent volunteered in a homeless shelter and said they are very grateful for anything they get. Another parent suggested telling kids the Halloween ‘loot’ simply disappeared with a burglar!
There are many creative desserts that can be whipped up with little effort from leftover Halloween spoils. One member told the group she froze most of her child’s candy to extend shelf life. Another member told of dipping spoons in melted candies and then wrapping them for stirring her morning coffee – all clever ideas. Take a look at these recipes below:
Let’s do our best to make sure our children have fun memories this Halloween that do not include a trip to the emergency room… and easy on the treats, Moms and Dads!
Revised from “Mischief Night and Halloween Safety” on 10/15/2012
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
New Jersey 24-Hour Family Helpline: 1-800-THE-KIDS
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Deval Patrick Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Jeff Kramer Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Jackie Saulmon Ramirez Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Russell Adams Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Shehan Peruma Under Flicker/CC License.
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