A pediatrician’s Halloween safety checklist

Ankoor Shah, M.D., M.P.H. provides tips to ensure that your Halloween isn’t any scarier than it needs to be.

kids trick-or-treating
© Monkey Business, Adobe Stock

Halloween is an exciting time of year for both children and adults. The holiday is full of sweet treats, spooky sights, and of course dressing up as your favorite character.

For me, the best part of Halloween was dressing up as Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. Now, as a pediatrician I’m glad to be able to help children and families enjoy the holiday while making sure that they stay safe.

Here’s a checklist to help ensure that your Halloween doesn’t have any unexpected frights.

Choose costumes that are bright and reflective.

Whether your child wants to be a firefighter, superhero, butterfly or ballerina, all costumes should be easy to see. One way to do this without completely ruining your child’s disguise is to add small strips of reflective tape so that drivers and other trick-or-treaters can quickly spot him or her. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, only 18 percent of parents put reflective tape on their child’s costumes though this simple step can dramatically increase visibility and improve safety.

Be wary of wardrobe malfunctions.

Masks can add a hint of mystery to a kid’s Halloween look, but they can also add less desirable breathing and sight obstructions. Ditch the mask and instead create a safe and fun facial disguise using non-toxic makeup or paint. Parents should test the paint or makeup on a small patch of skin ahead of time to steer clear of surprise allergic reactions. Additionally, choose fire-resistant wigs and accessories and make sure that all swords, canes and other props aren’t too sharp or long— as this could cause harm if a child slips or falls.

Map out the route ahead of time.

Plan your trick-or-treat route in advance so that when the time comes you know exactly where to go. It is best for children to travel in groups and stay within well-lit, familiar neighborhoods. They should also keep in touch with parents throughout the evening. Cell phones can be very helpful, but remind children to not check their devices while walking— especially when crossing the street.

Kids under 12 should always travel with an adult.

While it might be easier to send older, teen siblings with younger trick-or-treaters, children under the age of 12 should always be accompanied by an adult. Parents can use their discretion for children 12 and older, but kids should always travel in groups.

ALWAYS be on alert for moving vehicles.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide and the National Safety Council, twice as many kids are killed while walking on Halloween than any other day. It is important to remind kids to always look left, then right, then left again before crossing the street and pay close attention to cars that are turning or backing up. Drivers should use extra caution on Halloween, too. Never text and drive and stay alert, especially because young children may dart out into the street on this day more than most others.

Prevent sugar overload.

No candy should be eaten until the child returns home, after any suspicious or unwrapped items have been discarded. Treats should be stored outside of the child’s room so parents can keep a watchful eye on consumption. Kids are generally quite protective of the candy they’ve earned, so another trick is to opt for a trade. For example, give your child the opportunity to trade in sweet treats for a coloring book or a toy.

Have a plan for children with food allergies.

For a parent of a child with food allergies, Halloween isn’t always all fun and games. Fortunately, your child can still enjoy the evening alongside his or her friends with only a few modifications. Removed the treats that may trigger your child’s allergic reaction before allowing them to chow down, and if there’s no label or you’re unsure of the ingredients, err on the side of caution and throw it away. Another idea is to create your own allergy-free goodie bags and drop them off at your neighbors’ houses ahead of time. When your child arrives, the host can give your child his or her special treat. Just in case, consider carrying two EpiPens® with you if your child has a sever allergy. A recent study found that approximately 12 percent of children who visited an Emergency Department with food-related anaphylaxis needed two injections of epinephrine.

dr. shah
Photo courtesy of Children’s National Health System

Ankoor Shah, M.D., M.P.H., is a general pediatrician within Children’s National Health System, practicing in the Children’s Health Center at THEARC and the Mobile Health Program. He also specializes in pediatric asthma care as a clinician for IMPACT DC (Improving Asthma Care in the District of Columbia). He is currently the President-Elect of the D.C. Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Shah is a graduate of Emory School of Medicine and Emory Rollins School of Public Health. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his talented wife and more active dog.