Halloween Safety Tips for Parents

Child Health

How to Have a Safe, Inclusive, Happy Halloween

While celebrating Halloween, Atrium Health Levine Children’s pediatricians have tips to keep your kids safe while trick-or-treating and to be inclusive of all children – including those with food allergies and autism.

Halloween is fun for all ages. But this holiday can be worrisome for some parents. While the pandemic is showing signs of subsiding, there are still some safety measures you should consider – like trick-or-treating safety, other seasonal illnesses and kids with food allergies and/or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Read on for tips from Atrium Health Levine Children’s experts on how to make this Halloween safe, inclusive and fun for all.

Trick-or-Treating Safety

While Halloween is all fun and games, the truth is it can be dangerous for your little trick-or-treaters if certain precautions aren’t taken. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than on any other day of the year. 

Dr. Nicole Ivanov, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Mountain Island Pediatrics, says to start with having a conversation with your children about safety. “They might not realize how many dangers are lurking on Halloween night. It’s not meant to scare them – more so to make them aware.”

There are many hazards to consider, like pedestrian awareness, safe costumes and cautious driving, on Halloween night.

Ivanov’s tips for her patients and their parents include:

  1. Carry a glow stick or flashlight and/or use reflective tape or stickers on costumes and bags while also wearing light-colored clothing to help drivers better see trick-or-treaters.
  2. Chaperone kids under the age of 12 while trick-or-treating. Teens, who are 13 years old and up, should check in regularly with their parents/guardians and stick to visiting nearby and well-known neighborhoods.
  3. Always walk on sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic.
  4. Remind kids to cross the street at corners or crosswalks after looking left, right and left again.
  5. Choose a costume that fits properly to prevent trips and falls. Even consider face paint over masks (which can limit a child’s vision).
  6. Make sure your headlights are on, slow down and be alert. Kids are excited on Halloween and may dart into the street. 
  7. Check your child’s trick-or-treat bag for any candy that appears to be tampered with or homemade goods. Instruct your child to throw away any unsealed treats

Seasonal Illness Safety  

This might be the most normal Halloween yet since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While children and families are looking forward to some normalcy, don’t forget about flu, RSV and other respiratory illnesses that can be just as harmful and contagious.

If there’s one good thing to come out of the pandemic, it’s our society has quickly learned the importance of hand hygiene,” says Dr. Chpryelle Carr, pediatrician at Atrium Health Levine Children's Rea Village Pediatrics. “It’s a healthy practice any time of the year but especially as the holiday season kicks off with Halloween.”

Of course, when it comes to Halloween, the number one item on most kids’ minds is trick-or-treating.

Parents need to consider alternatives to traditional trick or treating based on their child’s personal health risk factors, Carr says. “Are they young and susceptive to RSV? Is their immune system down from a recent illness? Are they fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu? These are the questions I tell my patients’ parents to ask themselves.”

Another piece of advice is to make sure your kids wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer (if they don’t have access to soap and water) before eating their candy. 

Trick-or-treating is a classic, but there’s more fun to be had during Halloween. For lower-risk options, Carr suggests trying a scavenger hunt with candy at your own house or visit a pumpkin patch

Food Allergy Awareness

According to Dr. Ekta Shah, medical director and pediatric allergist with Atrium Health Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, food allergies should not be taken lightly. They affect 1 in 13 children in the U.S.

“They’re not simply food preferences and can make children very sick,” Shah says. For kids with food allergies, Halloween can be difficult. Some of the most common food allergens nuts, milk and eggs are found in many Halloween candies.”

Of course, there are ways to celebrate Halloween without food, like pumpkin carving, parades and dressing up in costumes. But for many children, the holiday centers around candy.

“If kids want to trick-or-treat and have food allergies, but they can’t read labels yet or speak up for themselves, they should go with a parent or trusted caregiver,” says Shah. “If your child has food allergies, teach them the importance of speaking up and always make sure they have auto-injectable epinephrine with them.”

Parents should also read ingredient labels carefully. If candies don’t have one on them, parents need to check the larger bag the candies came in or look up the ingredients on the candy manufacturer’s website. “The mini ones or ‘fun-sized’ ones can be processed differently from regular size candy, so parents need to watch out for potential allergens or cross-contamination,” cautions Shah. This can happen with any brand of candy. Also, pay attention to disclaimers about candy that ‘may contain peanuts’ or other food products, which infers traces of an allergenic food might unintentionally wound up in the packaged candy. 

Parents can also consider bringing a safe treat or snack with them that the child can enjoy while trick-or-treating in case the candies that they are handed out are not safe for your child.

For parents who want to offer allergy-friendly treats to kids, they can give children non-food items like glow sticks, pencils, stamps or stickers. Putting out a teal pumpkin, an initiative of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), is way to indicate your house supports including children with food allergies in Halloween by offering non-food treats.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Dr. Yasmin Senturias, division chief of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, sees many children with ASD in her practice. About 1 in 44 children has been identified with ASD according to estimates from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

“Halloween can be scary or overwhelming for children with ASD,” Senturias says. “Costumes that might not scare most people can frighten them.

Even wearing a costume can be difficult for kids with ASD because of the sensory issues they can experience. “If a child with ASD does want to wear a costume, allow them to try it on in advance,” Senturias advises. “Have a ‘dress rehearsal’ ahead of the holiday. You can even role play and show the child pictures of what to expect. Often, children with ASD want to participate in the fun but find it overstimulating.”

Parents of children with ASD should also explain to them in advance what the holiday will entail. If the child is trick-or-treating or participating in any kind of Halloween activity, and they’re verbal, the parent can tell the child to say “thank you” when receiving a treat. For nonverbal children, have the parent offer thanks on the child’s behalf. Parents of nonverbal children with ASD may need to offer brief explanations to other children about things that can overstimulate or frighten the child with ASD, such as loud noises, being touched unexpectedly or scary costumes. If the child is sensitive to noise, parents might consider bringing earplugs or another noise-blocking device for the child. “If you know your child is a runner, limit the number of houses you visit and don’t stray too far from home,” says Senturias. 

A blue bucket or pumpkin is a signifier that a child has ASD, as the color blue is the symbol of autism awareness. Parents can give their child a blue bucket or display a blue pumpkin to let others know their child has ASD or that your house is friendly to children with ASD.

Some children with ASD might prefer to stay home and help give out candy in a nontraditional way, like placing candy on the lawn or driveway with a ‘take one’ sign.

Senturias also advises that children with ASD should try to participate in Halloween festivities while it’s still light outside since darkness can make their imaginations can wild and create lots of uncertainties.

As far as candy consumption goes, the usual rules apply about safety and pacing oneself by limiting the amount of candy eaten in a day.

If you have questions about what activities are safe for you and your children this Halloween, contact your pediatrician. Need a pediatrician? Find one here.