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For Immediate Release

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Offers Families Tips for Making Halloween a Treat

Children Under Five Should Not Visit Haunted Houses; Staff Offers Free Candy Scans

For children, the true dangers of Halloween are not witches and warlocks but emotional stress, accidents and injuries. To help families avoid potential hazards of the holiday, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh offers tips and recommendations to keep little ghosts and goblins safe.

Haunted Houses Too Scary for Young Children
The scarier aspects of Halloween, such as gruesome haunted houses, can put a damper on Halloween fun. Younger children who have a hard time distinguishing between reality and make-believe and any child who scares easily or has a high anxiety level should not visit a haunted house.

“Preschool-age children up to age 5 may not be able to distinguish between reality and make-believe and they should not be taken to a haunted house,” said Dena Hofkosh, MD, director of the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital. “Haunted houses might even be too scary for some school-age children and young adolescents. Ultimately, though, I think it’s up to parents to know their children and determine if they will find the frightening experience pleasurable rather than painful.”

If children want to go to a haunted house, explain what the experience will involve ahead of time. Tell them that what they will see is just pretend. Accompany children during the visit, and always give them the option of leaving if they become too frightened.

Free Candy Scans Can Reduce Adult Fears
If adults are frightened by the prospect of foreign objects inside their children’s treats, they can visit Children’s Hospital for free CT scans – candy and treat scans, that is. They can bring their bags of treats during regular business hours (8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.) on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 to the Information Desk and request an inspection by the Radiology Department.

In addition, before children venture outside, families should scan Children’s Injury Prevention Web Site. Halloween safety tips can be found on the site for different age groups and reading levels. The following tips are written for parents and guardians.

Trick-or-Treat Safety Tips

  • Make sure all children have adult supervision when trick-or-treating. And no one, no matter how old, should trick-or-treat alone.
  • When choosing or making a costume, make sure it is made of fire-resistant material and bright colors. If you choose a dark color, add reflective tape so the trick-or-treater can be seen by drivers of on-coming cars. Make sure the costume is not a tripping hazard.
  • Avoid sharp objects as accessories.
  • Make sure costumes are large enough to permit warm clothes under it if the temperature is low.
  • If using face paint or make-up, make sure the ingredient labels say “made with U.S. approved colored additives,” “laboratory tested,” “non-toxic” or “meets federal standards for cosmetics.”
  • Younger children are better off not wearing masks. But if you choose to use one, make sure it does not obstruct vision or breathing. An elastic band can be used to secure a proper fit and prevent it from slipping.
  • Carry a flashlight.
  • Give children bright-colored trick-or-treat bags.
  • Make sure children are cautious when crossing streets. (See Street Safety Tips on Web site.)
  • Trick-or-treat in familiar neighborhoods at homes of people you know.
  • Know in advance the route that older children are taking.
  • Set a curfew and make sure your child has a watch.
  • Give children money to call home if necessary.
  • Instruct children not to eat any treats until they get home and have them checked by an adult. Serve them dinner beforehand so they won’t be hungry.
  • Dispose of any candy that has loose or open wrappers.
  • Wash all fruit and cut into pieces to inspect it before eating.
  • Contact police if any treats have been tampered with.
  • Make sure your home is well lit for visiting trick-or-treaters.
  • Clear steps and lawns of any tripping hazard.
  • If driving, beware of children darting out into the streets.

Children age 5 and under are usually unable to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe. Here are some tips for addressing the scary side of Halloween:

  • Preschool-age children and toddlers can be afraid of the scarier aspects of Halloween. Talk to younger children in advance about the difference between reality and make-believe.
  • If children are afraid to go trick or treating, be understanding. Talk to them about their fears, and let them know it’s OK to feel frightened. Reassure them that the ghosts and goblins they see at Halloween are just pretend.
  • Don’t force your children to go trick-or-treating. Instead, try getting them involved in other ways, such as helping to prepare treat bags and standing next to you as you hand out candy. Or, try reading books to them about Halloween and let them know that behind every costume and mask is a person just like them.
  • Bring along a favorite doll or other security object to help your children feel more secure. Let them know that you will be with them to keep them safe.
  • Have your children put on their costumes and/or make-up a few days before Halloween. This may help them get used to the idea that even though they look different, they are still the same underneath. If they try it out on themselves first, they may be less scared of others in costume.

NOTE: Halloween safety tips and more injury prevention information are available on Children’s Hospital’s Injury Prevention Web site – Pediatric emergency medicine and trauma physicians and child development and community education specialists are available for interviews.

Melanie Tush Finnigan, 412-692-5016,

Last Update
February 20, 2008
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Last Update
February 20, 2008