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2018 Oct

Treats Not Tricks

What can you do to keep your children safe this Halloween?

Can you remember what it was like to be a kid on Halloween? There’s the harvest fun of picking and carving the pumpkin (what’s the deal with those sticky seeds?). Kids love choosing the costume (what will you be this year?) and planning the evening. Nothing beats the sheer joy of going door-to-door to receive all types of candy (even the kind your mom won’t buy) and then gorging on ill-advised sugary treats. Kids get so excited for Halloween.

I have a vivid memory of one time when my kids dressed up for Halloween. My son was a Navy flyer in a flight suit (like Daddy’s) and my tiny daughter was Kermit the Frog. It was a magical evening of laughing with our neighbors, jack-o-lanterns, and lots of candy. The evening could have gone differently, however. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), on Halloween evening children are four times more likely to be hit and killed by a car than any other evening. Four times! What can you do to keep your children safe this Halloween?

Choose safe costumes
Discuss safe costumes with your kids. Explain that they need to choose safe costumes that allow them to see and hear. Beware that masks can inhibit vision and hats can decrease hearing. Avoid long costumes that may be trip hazards. Black costumes can be difficult for cars to see. Reflective tape can allow for visibility. Fire retardant costumes are preferred. Feel free to veto unsafe costumes.

Choose safe trick-or-treat plans
Walk in small groups. A single child can easily go missing in a large crowd, so smaller groups with parental supervision is safer. Children should carry a flashlight and wear reflective tape to increase visibility. Children tend to take the shortest route rather than the safest route, so stress the importance of staying on the sidewalk and crossing at crosswalks. Remind them not to run ahead of the group and to pay attention to the traffic. Looking both ways is important even in the excitement of trick-or-treating activities. Some parents prefer to participate in harvest activities within a church group or mall environment to avoid both the exposure to the street and visits to stranger’s homes.

Choose safe travel plans
If you must drive between the hours of 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. during trick-or-treat, please drive slowly. Be extra vigilant about the possibility of children dashing out at any time. Be prepared to stop abruptly if needed. Restrain your children in a car seat. Better to arrive a few minutes late than to have an accident.

Choose safe consumption of candy
When your children bring their candy home, examine the candy carefully. Dispose of candy that appears to have been tampered with or opened. Some hospitals offer free candy x-ray to check for hidden dangers. Allow your child to enjoy the candy, but feel free to set limits such as five pieces of candy tonight while saving the rest. Don’t forget to brush those little teeth before bed (and see your dentist every six months).

Choose not to be tricked by the flu
Influenza (the flu) can be more dangerous than trick-or-treating. The CDC reports that in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were 180 pediatric deaths from influenza and thousands of hospitalizations due to flu-related complications. Protect your children from influenza this fall by getting their flu shot. The flu shot is recommended for all children over six months of age. The flu shot is a dead vaccine, so it cannot give you the flu. However, minor side effects such as redness, soreness, muscle aches and fever may occur, lasting only a day or two.

Children should be vaccinated every year against the flu. Our family tradition was to go get our flu shots before shopping for Halloween costumes. My kids would agree to get their flu shot so that they could pick out their Halloween costume. It worked well to pair the two activities, and it became a normal fall routine to protect my children from the flu.

Whatever you and your family choose to do to celebrate this fall season, do so safely keeping in mind the importance of both the costume and the activity. Let’s hope this Halloween will bring only treats to our youngest goblins. Happy Halloween!

Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm is a doctor of nursing practice and a certified pediatric nNurse practitioner in Norfolk, as well as an assistant professor at ODU. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby 2nd edition, is available on Read more at Email Dr. Wilhelm at Follow her on Facebook at and twitter at

Give Your Child a Healthy Start to the School Year

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Help ensure your child enters the new school year healthy and without delay with these tips from the Virginia Department of Health.