Nina Radcliff

Dr. Nina Radcliff

It is that time of year again — Halloween!

Pumpkins are in every neighborhood, and costumes are around in the stores. And while Halloween festivities bring goblin-loads of excitement for children with classroom parties, trips to pumpkin patches, dress-up celebrations and trick-or-treating, for parents and neighbors, it can be tricky. And for good reason.

On Halloween, children are more than twice as likely to be killed by a car, compared to any other day of the year — a horrific fact from the National Safety Commission. And, the buckets and bags of candy collected are loaded with sugar that often last, not just a few days, but many weeks after. However, if everybody keeps in mind the tricks and treats of making it safe — Halloween can be fun for everyone!

Dr. Nina’s what you need to know: about Halloween safety

Pedestrian safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates children are four times more likely to be struck by a motor vehicle on Halloween compared to any other day of the year. Some safety tips include:

• Trick-or-treaters make yourself visible. By wearing bright costumes or reflective tape on costumes or bags, or carrying a flashlight or glow sticks, you improve your visibility to motorists.

• When crossing the street, do so at crosswalks or signal lights. And, make sure to look left, then right, then left again, before crossing, and continue to look as you cross.

• Walk on sidewalks whenever possible, or on the far edge of the road facing traffic to stay safe.

• Pay attention to cars that are turning or backing-up.

• Don’t text and walk — it is distracting, and you are less likely to notice motor vehicles. And always a reminder to motorists — it is against the law to text while operating a vehicle.

Dental health

Maintaining good oral health while enjoying your Halloween treats does not have to be mutually exclusive. The American Dental Association, in their MouthHealthy Halloween Campaign makes several suggestions to decrease the risk of tooth decay from sweets:

• Eat candy and sweets during, or soon after, meals when saliva production increases. Saliva helps to neutralize acids produced by bacteria as well as rinse away food particles.

• Avoid hard and sticky candies that increase the length of time that sugar and acid are exposed to your teeth.

• Make sure to drink plenty of water to wash away food particles.

• National Brush Day is Nov. 1, chosen the day after Halloween to reinforce the importance of children’s oral health and promote good tooth-brushing habits. Make sure to brush for two minutes, twice a day, along with flossing on that Thursday, and also throughout the year.

Checking candy

Poisoned or tampered candy is an unfortunate (but fortunately rare) real-life incident. Trick-or-treaters and their parents should take proper precautions. Before eating a piece, treats should be examined by a responsible adult in a place with a bright light. Checking Halloween candy includes looking for evidence of tampering, and throwing away treats that appear suspicious or have been handmade by strangers. Anything that does not look right should be safely disposed. If you find tainted candy or treats, contact the police. In addition, caution your children not to accept any beverages offered to them while trick and treating.

Moderating candy intake

Halloween is an opportunity for children — and adults — to stockpile oodles and noodles of candy that can last for days, and even weeks. Some tips to decrease the sugar and calorie consumption include:

• Avoid trick-or-treating on an empty stomach — being hungry with a bag full of candy is a temptation few can resist.

• Hand out toys — and not to worry, kids will not be disappointed! Researchers from Yale University found that children are just as likely to choose a small toy as they are candy when offered both on Halloween.

• Opt to hand out non-sugary and wholesome foods such as granola bars, canned or dried fruit, popcorn, pretzels, and apples.

• And if you are hosting a party, provide a variety of fruit, veggies, and cheeses. There are plenty of creative Halloween recipes from cheesy Colby Jack-o’-lanterns to carrot fingers to “boo”-nana pops.

• Limit candy consumption in the days that follow to one, two, or three treats a day.

Costumes

There is a lot of excitement in homes across America to decide what to wear for that special day. When choosing costumes, consider:

• Wearing comfortable shoes and avoiding costumes that are too long to decrease the risk of falling and other injuries.

• Testing makeup on a small area of skin to avoid skin reactions

• Make sure that the costume, mask and accessories have the label “Flame Resistant.” These items will resist burning and should extinguish quickly

• Swords, knives and other “sharp” accessories should be made of soft and flexible material to avoid injury in the event of falling on it

• If wearing a mask, ensure that it fits securely, your child can breathe easily and the eye holes are large enough to permit full visibility

• Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors

Safety

It is always wise to speak to our children about safety, and especially so for Halloween. When it comes to older children and young teens who are trick-or-treating without an adult, consider planning and reviewing the route they will be using. Also, remind them to:

• Never accept rides from strangers or visit poorly lit homes

• Walk in groups

• Stay in touch and abide by a curfew

• Keep a cell phone readily accessible, but not to be distracted by it when walking

• Carry a flashlight

• Take extra time when driving to look for kids at intersections, on medians and curbs. Also, be especially careful when backing out and pulling into driveways

• Make sure your home is well lit for visiting trick-or-treaters (and clear steps and lawns of any tripping hazard)

Fire

Jack-o’lanterns and other decorations with flames help create a fun and festive Halloween atmosphere. However, they present a fire risk. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that for each year from 2014 to 2016, there were 10,100 fires reported to fire departments, 125 injuries, 30 deaths and $102 million in property loss over a three-day period around Halloween. Some safety tips to avoid fires include:

• Keeping any candles or flames away from doorsteps, walkways, landings, curtains, small children and pets

• Placing candles or flames on sturdy tables

• Never leave open flames unattended

• Considering a battery-operated candle or glow-stick in Jack-o-lanterns

• Making sure all smoke alarms in the home are working

Keeping our furry family members calm and easily identifiable

Halloween brings a flurry of activities to your home with doorbells ringing and visitors arriving at your doorstep; and some strangers can actually be scary and stressful for pets. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours.

Take extra precaution when opening the door for guests, to ensure that your pet doesn’t dart outside. It is always a good idea to appoint someone who can manage the pets to be the designated door opener. For pets at home or going out into the streets with you, double check to ensure they are wearing proper identification — if for any reason they do escape, a collar with ID tags and/or a microchip can be a lost pet’s lifesaver.

Scary and spooky can be as close as your television: During this time, some television programs and special events (like spook houses) and their promotions and productions can fall under the horror genre. Most of the themed variety do not fall under the appropriate viewing for young children. They need parental guidance with consideration for each child — whether at home, a neighbor’s or out in the community. It is a good time to talk with your child about how to speak up for themselves, and manage their environment and their “safe” boundaries.

Americans spend between $6.5-6.86 billion dollars on costumes, candy and decorations. It is reported as the third-largest celebration in our nation. There is a lot of make-believe fun to be had on Halloween, but there are scary risks. Making safety the cornerstone of the celebration starts with planning and taking these practical Halloween safety tips. Extra caution can help ensure Halloween safety for everyone. Enjoy!

I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July of 2013

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