Halloween has always been a favorite holiday, for kids and adults. I’ve always been drawn to the creative theatrics of the holiday. I love coming up with weird costumes, pushing the limits of what I can make myself. Getting a little scared, seeing the amazing creations of others, and trying to figure out “how they did it” add to the intrigue. And to be honest, as a kid I also loved the holiday because I got to walk around at night trick-or-treating. Candy, costumes, and creepiness, what’s not to love?
Now that I am a parent, I have a slightly different perspective. I want my kid to enjoy Halloween as much as I always have. But looking back, I realize that I didn’t always make the best choices when it came to safety. For many parents, the prospect of letting their kids roam the streets knocking on strangers’ doors is the cause of great anxiety. However, with a little bit of planning and knowledge, parents and kids alike can stay safe while enjoying All Hallows’ Eve.
Talk to your kids about safety, without laying down unjustified rules. Be sure you have accurate information about what the real dangers are, and then help your children understand them too. One easy way to have this conversation is by applying Cuong Nhu’s 5 A’s of Self-Defense: Awareness, Alertness, Avoidance, Anticipation, and Action.
Be aware of what the real Halloween dangers are. The media often pushes fears of “Stranger Danger” and poisoned candy around this time of year. However, the reality is that there has NEVER been a documented case of someone poisoning random children with Halloween candy (according to Safe Kids Worldwide). Furthermore, abductions and abuse are very rarely from strangers, on Halloween or any other time of the year. Less than one in five violent victimizations are by strangers in a public place (Bureau of Justice Statistics).
This is not to say that there aren’t safety concerns when it comes to Halloween. One real danger is cars; children are twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other night of the year (Safe Kids Worldwide). The reasons for this are fairly self-explanatory. With a large number of excited kids running from house to house, knocking on neighbors’ doors (often with dark or cumbersome costumes) at and after dusk, drivers have a lot more to watch out for.
Everyone should be alert on Halloween. For kids, this means paying attention to what is around them, especially when crossing the street. They can’t be alert if they can’t see or hear, so be sure their costume doesn’t block their senses. If a mask doesn’t have big enough eye holes, kids might not see the cars as they cross the street. And if their ears are blocked too, they can’t hear you when you tell them to watch out. Find a way that lets your child stay alert while wearing their costume. Explain why it’s important and make sure they remember to always look before crossing the street.
Adults need to be extra alert on Halloween as well. With a large number of kids darting across the street, drivers need to pay more attention and go slower than usual. Be aware that kids might cross without looking in the middle of the block. If you are driving in residential areas, be fully present and alert between the hours of 4 and 10 pm.
Teen Tip: If you are at a Halloween party, pay attention to what you are drinking. If it’s alcohol, know how much you’ve had and know that even a little bit will start impeding your senses and your sense. Keep an eye on your drink and get a new one if you’ve left it unattended. Even if you are with friends, be sure you keep your head and make good decisions; you can only do this if you are alert and paying attention.
Avoidance is one of the main principles of self-defense. Avoid dangers by using common sense and applying what you know. In the Halloween context, we know that car accidents are one of the biggest dangers. We can avoid this danger by following traffic laws, as we do all the time, and by being a bit more cautious than usual.
In addition to avoiding known dangers, it’s important to stay aware of, and follow, your intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your gut and avoid it. A “gut” feeling isn’t just you being paranoid; your brain can process way more than what you are consciously aware of. A gut feeling is your body’s way of telling you it saw or heard something even if you can’t identify what it was. Learn to listen to this feeling. If something makes you feel uneasy, there is a reason for it. Don’t ignore this voice in your head; you don’t need to understand the “why” to avoid a potential danger.
Parents, help your kids develop good intuition as well. Talk about it and don’t force them to do something they don’t want to (within reason, of course). Halloween has a lot that can make kids scared. If they don’t want to be scared or don’t want to go somewhere, respect that. If you force them to “get over it” you are teaching them to ignore their intuition. In the long run, this is much more dangerous. While the uneasy feelings of Halloween may be artificially created, they represent real self-defense instincts that we want to preserve in ourselves and our children.
A little planning can go a long way when it comes to safety. Anticipate what drivers will see when you are crossing the street in the dark; have something very visible on all costumes (for example, glow sticks, reflective tape, flashlights, glow in the dark bags, or light-up shoes). Anticipate where you will go – don’t wander into new areas when trick-or-treating. If children or teens are trick-or-treating without parents, have a plan in place for when, where, with whom, and what to do if something goes wrong. Discuss it ahead of time so there are no surprises when it’s time to head out the door.
Teen Tip: Plan a way of getting around on Halloween without driving. New drivers are at a greater risk of hitting a kid running out into the street than more experienced drivers. In fact, per mile driven, teenage drivers are three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash (Center for Disease Control). There is no reason to risk a tragic accident. Also, if you will be around others where drinking may occur, anticipate a way to get everyone home safely without anyone getting behind the wheel of a car. There are many safe ways to do this, so come up with a game plan before the night starts.
The final of our five A’s of self-defense is Action. If there is a safety concern, DO something about it! This may mean cutting your trick-or-treating short or taking the mask off or switching from costume shoes into sneakers. While no one wants to miss out on Halloween fun, it is vital that you act when it comes to safety. Parents, teach your kids that they can always talk to you, but that when it comes to imminent safety concerns, it is not up to discussion, it’s time for action.
Teen Tip: Peer pressure is one of the biggest dangers teens face. Doing something that goes against the group mentality can be very difficult, but often is the most important way to avoid costly regrets. Learn to assert your independence, listen to your gut, and do what you know is right. As hard as it can be, speak up and be clear. If someone continues to ignore you, they aren’t a true friend and aren’t worth following.
Now it’s time for you to take action. Parents, talk to your kids about safety now, before Halloween night. Use the 5 A’s of self-defense to help them develop good safety habits: Awareness, Alertness, Avoidance, Anticipation, and Action. Talk early and talk often; discuss the “scary” topics such as drinking and peer pressure before you think your kid is old enough. The more they have talked about it the better prepared and comfortable they will be when they do encounter it (even if you don’t know about it).
And lastly, have a safe and happy Halloween!