Halloween – the night when the ghosts and ghouls come out in force … and dissolve into giggles and shrieks of joy as they cart home their candy – is almost upon us.
We moved from a city with a large Mennonite community, where many people ignored Halloween, and came to my home county …. where it’s pretty much the biggest community celebration of the year. (Christmas is a big thing, too, but that’s primarily family-focused, not community-focused)
Most churches around here hold ‘Trunk or Treat’ events, showing off their extremely creative costumes, as do the schools, houses are heavily decorated, and there are still hundreds of children on even the rural roads.
This is the only day of the year when it’s technically okay to accept candy from a stranger, and our county has turned it into a huge night of fun, celebration of community, and creativity. I love seeing Halloween returned to its roots (and no, it’s not the same thing as Samhain, the pagan celebration) as a Christian celebration where we can publicly rejoice for the victory of Christ over the grave.
Now, if you completely opt out of Halloween, this won’t be relevant to you. For the record, most of the practicing pagans I’ve known throughout the years also opt out of what they consider a very Christian celebration (and it is, in fact)! But if you ARE sending your little ghosts and goblins – and Paw Patrol pups and princesses and Darth Vaders – to go knocking on doors, then here are some tips for keeping everyone safe.
Check the schedule
When I was young, we all went trick or treating on October 31. There were sometimes private parties and events, but for most of us, families or groups of friends went out together, going door to door.
These days, though, many towns organize large, scheduled trick or treat events and set some expectations of behavior. Churches and schools have their own special events and activities, too.
Before planning your family’s activities, consult your local newspaper or your town’s website, your school’s calendar and your church’s bulletin. Make sure you know what day and time all events are, or at least the ones you’ll be attending, and what time the fun is expected to end for the night.
Travel in packs
Not only is there safety in numbers, but it’s also a lot more fun.
Older children, those who are old enough to be unsupervised, should head out in groups and stay together as they make their spooky sojourn around the neighbourhood. If you have doubts that your children will stay together, they are not old enough to be unsupervised!
Little ones should have a parent overseeing each group – and two parents are even better, with one at the head of the group and the other at the rear. This ensures that no child can accidentally wander off or get lost.
Don’t forget flashlights
There is not a child out there who doesn’t love flashlights! Even in the house, in the daytime, my children love to play with them. If your child is old enough to be out once the sun goes down, flashlights come in handy. No, they shouldn’t be wandering too far from the street lights, but being able to shed light in dark corners can help keep everyone safe.
Understand and respect levels of ‘too scary’
In our house, we have a nine year old Doctor Who fan. He loves the scary aliens and ‘ooooh, who is hiding around the corner?’ adrenaline rush. He never gets frightened by anything fictional, possibly because his autistic brain automatically puts it into a category called ‘not real and therefore harmless’. Sometimes it’s handy to have a black and white view of the world. (As a note, his father, who also is on the autism spectrum has the same attitude – it’s not real, and you know it, so just have fun with it’)
This is the child who would happily dress up as a terrifying ghoul, jump out at people and then spoil the fright by dissolving into laughter.
He gets to go trick or treating with his father and I don’t even want to see whatever costumes they come up with!
Not everyone is ready for the blood and gore and heart-pounding frights, and some of us never will be! At 45, I cover my eyes at the scary parts in shows and will never, ever, ever watch something like Saw.
Be aware of the different levels of ‘too scary’ in your household and in your community. Let the older children create their scary, gory costumes, if you wish, but ensure that they won’t be seen by younger brothers and sisters. This is a good reason to have the younger children make their rounds and then get to bed before the older ones come around.
Too many people think it’s funny to put on a horrifying mask and then jump in front of the unsuspecting preschoolers. It’s a pretty effective way to scar a trusting tot for life, though, and most of us really don’t want our children to grow up timid and distrusting.
Teach them ‘Stranger’ rules
Okay, not every stranger is a bad guy. But children need to know that some behaviors are suspect.
If a stranger in a car pulls up to talk, steer clear.
If unfamiliar adults in a house invite you in, decline politely and leave.
Also make sure your children have a safe code. Don’t share it with people. Mine know that there is a very specific set of words that MUST be said for my children to get into a car with someone other than us. We made it clear to them that that includes police officers, relatives and any other ‘But what about -?” They all need to say the code. And if we ever need to use it, we’ll change it.
Unless children know how to stay safe when at a physical disadvantage, they need to have adult supervision.
Check candy before consuming
Children should not be permitted to dip into their candy stash while trick or treating. Instead, parents should inspect the contents of the loot bags before giving candy consumption the go-ahead.
Make it very clear to children that they should never accept unwrapped or homemade treats from people they don’t know well. If Aunt Betty bakes 3 dozen pumpkin cupcakes, or the lady next door is giving out homemade cookies to the neighbourhood children, that is a very different thing from unwrapped treats from a stranger on the other side of town.
When the children get home with their bags of candy, give everything a thorough inspection before letting them to dig into their stash. If you see any of the following, toss it:
- Unwrapped candies or other snacks
- Candies with a missing or torn-open wrapper
- Anything unusual about the candy, such as a wrapper that appears to have been re-glued, or any oddly shaped candies.
The above irregularities may indeed be the result of a manufacturing or packaging error. Even so, it’s best to stick to safe snacking … especially on Halloween.0