In the day, I was a number of characters on 31 October: Casper the Friendly Ghost, a Football Player, Robin Hood, and finally Zorro (more about him later). Growing up in rural Northern Wisconsin in the late 60s-70s, trick or treating involved at least two or more of the following: a car ride from house to house, a costume that would fit over a winter coat, endless stories of how my dad used to bring home pillow cases of candy when he was a kid in Milwaukee (all purchased for less than a penny during the Depression), and snow.
Even in the "old days" we heard tales of people altering caramel apples, popcorn balls, and candy bars with pins, needles, or razor blades, and then as now, it's best to be safe than sorry and not let kids eat handmade treats unless you know the person. Also don't allow your kids to eat any candy until after an adult has carefully examined them for evidence of tampering, besides, it takes all the fun out of dumping your candy out on the floor and separating it into keep/trade piles. If you're handing out treats, make sure you have something for every age to prevent you from giving a small child something that may present a choking hazard. Make sure all treats are securely wrapped, to avoid handing out a treat that may appear to be tampered with.
Flame Resistant Costumes
When purchasing a costume, masks, beards, and wigs, look for the label "Flame Resistant." Although this label does not mean these items won't catch fire, it does indicate the items will resist burning and should extinguish quickly once removed from the ignition source. To minimize the risk of contact with candles or other sources of ignition, avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts.
Purchase or make costumes that are light and bright enough to be clearly visible to motorists. For greater visibility during dusk and darkness, decorate or trim costumes with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car's headlights. Bags or sacks should also be light colored or decorated with reflective tape. Reflective tape is usually available in hardware, bicycle, and sporting goods stores. I should point out here that a 2 pound coffee can made to look like a jack-o'-lantern with a candle inside and a copper wire handle to carry it by, while looking very spooky, is very unsafe and usually ends up burning your fingers and dripping candle wax on your car interior (don't ask, it was dad's idea). Therefore, to easily see and be seen, children should carry flashlights and or fluorescent glow sticks, which may not provide enough light to see by, but they are more durable, kids are more likely to hang onto them, and they are very visible to others.
Costumes should be short enough to prevent children from tripping and falling. Children should wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes; mother's high heels are not a good idea for safe walking. Hats and scarfs should be tied securely to prevent them from slipping over children's eyes. Apply a natural mask of cosmetics rather than have a child wear a loose-fitting mask that might restrict breathing or obscure vision. If a mask is used, make sure it fits securely and has eyeholes large enough to allow full vision; extremely important, as the "Zorro" mask my sister made for me looked good, but would always slip down at the most inopportune time, usually right before falling into a water-filled ditch. Swords, knives, and similar costume accessories should be of soft and flexible material.
Young children should always be accompanied by an adult or an older, responsible child, and older children should be given a reasonable curfew. All children should WALK, not run from house to house and use the sidewalk if available, rather than walk in the street. Children should be cautioned against running out from between parked cars, or across lawns and yards where ornaments, furniture, ditches, or clothes-lines present dangers, cross streets only at the corners. Make sure children know their home phone number, and give them a cell phone or small two-way radio if available. As a minimum, ensure they have enough pocket change to make an emergency phone call from a pay phone. If you are driving to your trick or treating location, or live in a rural area and are driving from house to house, don't let children exit the vehicle on the driver's side (traffic side), let them out of cars on the curb side of the street (unless there is a huge, water-filled ditch next to the car, then either safely get out on the street side, or in my case, send your sister out first).
Choosing Safe Houses
Children should go only to homes where the residents are known and have outside lights on as a sign of welcome. Children should not enter homes or apartments unless they are accompanied by an adult. People expecting trick-or treaters should remove anything that could be an obstacle from lawns, steps, and porches. If you like to dress up and "get into character" by appearing scary, or by startling people, be aware that small children can be traumatized, run blindly in the opposite direction, fall off of porches, wet their pants, or all four; creating a very unsafe situation. If you are going to scare people, choose your audience carefully, or better yet, don't.
Candlelit jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from landings and doorsteps where costumes could brush against the flame. Indoor jack-o'-lanterns should be kept away from curtains, decorations, and other furnishings that could be ignited. Speaking of pumpkins; let children draw the face on the pumpkin, but leave the carving to the parents. Parents, in the midst of all the excitement during carving, keep track of the knives and other sharp utensils and carve them on a sturdy, flat surface. There are many pumpkin carving kits available in stores that look safe enough, but some of the carving tools are still too sharp or pointed for young children; so give them a hand with the carving chores.
By simply observing a few simple rules, using a little common sense, and thinking before you act, you and your children can enjoy a safe and enjoyable Halloween.
For further information on product safety, consumers may call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's toll-free hotline at (800) 638-2772. Hearing impaired consumers may use TTY (800) 638-8270.