For kids, Halloween is an exciting time. According to one source, about 36.1 million children go trick-or-treating every year—and that’s in the United States alone. It’s our favorite holiday of the year, outside of National Meow Like a Pirate Day, and we certainly don’t want to scare anyone away from the seasonal activities. However, if you’re a parent, your experience with Halloween likely involves a lot of worrying. While 93 percent of households consider their neighborhoods to be safe (link opens a PDF), it’s hard to shake the feeling that the holiday is at least slightly dangerous (particularly when you see hundreds of zombies and ghouls roaming your streets). The good news is that with proper planning, trick-or-treating is a perfectly safe and fun activity. It’s a good way to get exercise, make memories, and most importantly, get massive amounts of candy from your unsuspecting neighbors. Here are a few tips for a happy and healthy Halloween, along with a few (hopefully) helpful product suggestions to help you plan for the season.
1. Make sure that your children go out wearing reflective gear.
We’d love to tell you that every driver exercises a little extra caution on Halloween night, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. According to the National Safety Council, children are more than twice as likely to be fatally struck by a vehicle on Halloween than on any other day of the year. It’s not too difficult to determine why that’s the case: On Halloween, hundreds of kids walk the streets in the dusk, and drivers have a harder time seeing in low-light conditions. Before your kids head out—hopefully with an adult or an older teenager in tow—teach them to make contact with drivers before crossing the road.
— MD State Highway Adm (@MDSHA) October 22, 2014
Make sure that they’re not hitting the streets glued to their phones or other electronic devices, which cause an unnecessary distraction (while also limiting them from getting the true Halloween experience, in our opinion). Remind them that every car is a potential threat, even if it’s parked; many injuries occur when kids dart between parked cars right as drivers are starting to move. And while this might be somewhat obvious, reflective materials are absolutely essential, even if your kids won’t be trick-or-treating in complete darkness. One study found that reflective materials are most effective when applied to pedestrians’ joints, as opposed to their torsos, but really, the more reflectivity you can build into a costume, the better. Your kids probably won’t want to wear reflective vests, but fortunately, that’s not necessary. You can get a cheap roll of reflective tape (Gear Aid’s reflective tape, available here on Amazon, is our choice), apply a few strips, and improve the safety of just about any article of clothing. You might even find ways to use the tape as part of the costume—easy enough if your kid’s going as the Tin Man, slightly more difficult if they’re going as a ghost.
2. Try to incorporate lighter colors into your kid’s costumes.
We know, we know—Halloween’s all about scary stuff, and nobody wants to be a bright-yellow zombie. However, if you can push your kids toward brighter, lighter costumes, you’ll make them significantly more visible on dark streets, limiting their chances of an accident. Choose bright materials and accessories. Even something like a simple LED light bracelet can improve safety dramatically. If that’s not ideal, you can look for other ways to bring a little light to your child’s trick-or-treating gear. A glow-in-the-dark candy bucket (here’s a great one with a removable LED) is a great example; they allow you to easily identify your child from a distance, and kids will love the spooky glow. What’s the downside, other than all that extra room for sugar? Make sure to test the product in question before the big day. Some “reflective” items don’t really reflect that much light, so a quick test run will allow you to accurately gauge the product’s effectiveness (while giving your kid an excuse to put on their costume).
#Halloween Safety Tip – Ensure your children are visible when crossing the street. Use reflective tap, glow sticks or flashlight.
— Sgt. Todd Ringle (@ISPEvansville) October 30, 2016
To perform a simple test, have your kid stand in a dark room and shine a decent flashlight past them. You’ll be surprised at how high-quality reflective materials can catch your eye—and you’ll have some additional peace of mind when Halloween rolls around.
3. Keep your trick-or-treater’s eyes clear.
We realize that this may take some of the fun out of Halloween, but masks impede your child’s vision, making an accidental trip much more likely. While older kids can safely wear masks, younger kids should avoid them. The good news is that you really don’t need masks. Face paint is more fun, and it’s often less expensive. This kit off Amazon uses lab-tested, paraben-free ingredients, and it’s gentle on sensitive skin. Even so, you should always test costume makeup in a small area before applying it to sensitive skin. If you notice any signs of irritation, move to your backup plan. Remember, some products can become more irritating over time, so make sure to remove all makeup and body paint before your child goes to sleep. If that sounds like a ton of work, you can always choose a costume that leaves your kid’s face exposed; we’ve got rundowns of some excellent options for kids 6 to 12 here, along with a list of toddler costumes here. If you do decide to use a mask, make sure that your child can see, particularly when it comes to their peripheral vision. Make sure that the mask fits your child’s face, and remind them that it’s okay to flip the mask up while walking (not running) from house to house. Don’t be afraid to cut the eye holes a bit wider if necessary. While it might feel like you’re ruining the costume, you might actually be saving Halloween.
4. Watch out for costumes with pointy accessories, even if they seem fairly blunt.
“There are sharp objects in particular in pirate costumes or swords for Star Wars costumes,” Marie Crandall, MD, told News 4 regarding dangerous costume components. “Another big risk is eye injuries, and you don’t want to wear an eye patch after Halloween.” For that matter, you don’t really want to wear an eye patch during Halloween, since it can seriously inhibit depth perception, but we get her point: Sharp accessories are a serious no-no, even if they make a costume look more authentic. For what it’s worth, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that costume accessories “should be short, soft, and flexible.” Foam products certainly fit into that description; plastics, not so much. Foam swords like these are a great and inexpensive option. You could also allow your kid to bring out the accessories for the pre-trick-or-treating photos, but leave them at home when they actually hit the streets.
5. Get high-quality flashlights capable of lighting the ground immediately in front of your child.
Unfortunately, glow sticks don’t provide enough light to walk safely from house to house, so while all of your neighbors’ kids might use them, you’ll want something more effective. Every trick-or-treater should have a working flashlight to avoid accidental trips and falls. You certainly don’t want to spend Halloween night nursing skinned knees and comforting crying toddlers—not when you could spend that time sneaking bites of their candy stash. Avoid the cheap Halloween-themed flashlights you find at big-box stores unless the packaging shows an actual light rating. Anything less than 35–60 lumens probably won’t light the way too effectively once you’re actually outdoors (although your mileage will vary, depending on the amount of natural light and other factors). Look for a flashlight with multiple light settings and a fairly wide lumen range, and you’ll be in good shape. We recommend the Outlight A100, a high-quality flashlight with a water-resistant design and a budget-friendly price tag. With that said, any camping flashlight should do the job nicely. Just be sure to check your batteries before you leave the house—and if you’re trick-or-treating with multiple kids, make sure that they’ve each got their own light source.
6. Choose safe, protective shoes.
Costume shoes usually don’t work for safe trick-or-treating, especially past dusk. They’re often too thin to properly protect your kids’ feet, and because sizing ranges greatly from one manufacturer to the next, they can cause blisters—not what you’d want at the end of a long night with a tired toddler. Really, any high-quality shoes will work, provided that they aren’t heels. Shinmax offers an affordable set of LED shoes with rechargeable lights, which will bring some much-needed illumination to Halloween night. You can get them on Amazon here, but be aware that the sizing runs a little large. If you’ve already got some decent shoes—and believe us, we understand the importance of keeping a kid’s footwear budget under control—consider upgrading with some LED safety lights (here’s a cheap pair for under $20). They’re not totally necessary if you’ve already picked up reflective tape and a decent flashlight, but they’ll make the holiday a bit safer, and kids love them. What Halloween-loving kid wouldn’t want glowing shoes? Heck, we’re adults, and we kind of want a pair for ourselves.
7. Don’t forget to keep your home’s walkways lit.
Kids will be walking up your pathway all night (well, if you’re lucky, anyway), so stop them from stumbling by planting a few solar lights. While there’s no shortage of Halloween-themed pathway lights, most are cheaply made and nearly useless at night. We prefer the look of Voona solar lights, which use AA Ni-MH batteries to store a powerful charge. They’re slightly expensive, but they are well worth the investment as they’re one of the few items on this list that doesn’t immediately lose its value on the first day of November. Alternately, you could pick up a smart light kit, which opens up plenty of fun possibilities on Halloween; keep them bright while your trick-or-treating victims—er, guests—walk to your house, then turn them bright red before you swing open the door.
It's that time of year!!!😀😃🤗 Tomorrow the blue porch light will be temporarily replaced with a black light, and I'm thinking some cobwebs for the bushes and trees. Halloween is the coolest.
— Joan E. Sheehan (@JoanESheehan) October 2, 2018
While you’re at it, consider putting up a few temporary signs warning drivers to take it slow. We’re big fans of this orange pop-up safety cone, which is portable, lightweight, and ideal for this type of application. Granted, some teenagers might snatch it, but the risk is worth it considering you’ll improve your neighborhood’s safety during trick-or-treating.
8. By all means, check candy, but realize that it’s probably not a major issue.
Check your kids’ candy, looking for any pieces that appear re-wrapped. Tell your kids to refuse homemade treats unless they’re from trusted neighbors or family members, and set a few ground rules regarding the amount of candy they’re allowed to eat at once. Those are some pretty common-sense steps, but we should note that Halloween poisonings don’t really happen except in extremely isolated cases. Snopes.com, which investigates urban legends, says there are no documented cases in which intentionally poisoned candy was handed out randomly to trick-or-treaters—not one, not ever. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Halloween candy is healthy. If you’re trying to rid your household of sugar (or if you’re simply looking to limit the amount of sweets your neighborhood hands out), consider giving kids toys, temporary tattoos, and stickers instead. Novelty assortment packs are pretty cheap, and they can give you some peace of mind—at least until the older kids start TP-ing your house. One more note regarding candy safety: Some objects (we’re looking at you, spider rings) can be serious choking hazards for younger children. While you’re skimming through their treat bags (and taking your share of the dreaded Parental Candy Tax), be sure to separate those items from the rest of the stash.
9. If your kids are heading out alone, you’ll need to take some extra precautions.
Should you let your 10-year-old head out onto the streets alone? That’s a difficult question, and the answer varies from parent to parent. Some experts believe that solo trick-or-treating is an important part of childhood. “When you say it’s all too dangerous because your children don’t know how to cross the street, and all your neighbors are awful … then you are giving up on your neighborhood and your child,” notes Lenore Skenazy, the author of the controversial book Free-Range Kids. If you’re considering the question, you probably know what’s right for your family. Ideally, your kid won’t be truly “alone,” but heading out with friends, so a logical first step is to make sure that all of their parents are aware of the situation. Next, talk over acceptable trick-or-treat routes and set ground rules for talking with strangers. Make sure that your child knows what to do if they get lost, and make sure they’ve got a way to contact you if necessary. If they’re old enough to head out alone, they’re old enough to hold onto a phone—at least for one night, anyway. Tell them to only visit well-lit houses, and to never enter anyone’s house for candy (unless it’s a well-known, trusted friend—we’d even recommend giving them a specific list of houses that meet those criteria). Many homes set out candles and other luminaries during Halloween; tell kids to avoid standing near these, especially if they’re wearing flammable materials.
10. Finally, make sure to keep your other Halloween activities as safe as possible.
If you’re carving jack-o-lanterns, allow your kids to help during the planning stages, but don’t let younger kids anywhere near your carving tools. That’s just asking for trouble. “The most common accidents associated with pumpkin carving are stab wounds to the fingers and palm,” Stuart J. Elkowitz, MD, assistant clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in the division of hand surgery, tells Consumer Reports. Sure, that’s obvious, but doesn’t it sound much more official when an actual doctor says it? Older kids can help out, but to stay safe, consider investing in some cut-resistant gloves. Wislife offers an affordable (and highly reviewed) pair that meets EN388 cutting resistance standards; get them here. Note that these gloves don’t protect in all circumstances, so you’ll still want to guide your kids through their first pumpkin carvings. This is a good opportunity to teach the basics of knife safety, too, by the way: Always cut away from yourself, don’t apply unnecessary pressure, and keep your knives clean and sharp. While we’re on the subject, specialized pumpkin carving kits can make the process much safer (and improve the quality of the finished product). This kit, for example, includes two saws, a poker, and a scoop, and the saws’ serrated edges will provide much more precise cuts than a standard kitchen knife. You can even find professional-level pumpkin carving kits, which come with a variety of high-quality saws. Sure, it might be overkill, but high-quality kits will last for years, while the cheaper options are only good for one or two gourds. Ultimately, Halloween doesn’t have to be a frightening time for parents (well, not frightening in a bad way, anyways). Use common sense, communicate with your kids, and make sure you’re prepared. When All Hallow’s Eve rolls around, you’ll be able to relax with a nice glass of apple cider while the kids enjoy the holiday.