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Keep Little Ghosts and Goblins Safe, Happy and Healthy This Halloween With Advice From Experts at Children’s Hospital

Preventing belly aches, nightmares and pedestrian accidents top concerns of holiday

Experts at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC are offering some simple tips for families to follow this Halloween to avoid a trip to the emergency room for young superheroes and princesses.

What scares us the most this Halloween?
Pedestrian accidents are the top safety concern on Halloween as young trick-or-treaters excitedly roam the streets in costumes that may limit their field of vision and make it difficult for drivers to see them, according to Barbara A. Gaines, MD, director of the Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program at Children’s.

The number of child pedestrian deaths is four times higher on Halloween evening than on any other night of the year, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “On Halloween, kids are at a very real danger of being hit by a car because they are so excited, they may run from house to house, crossing streets without looking or darting into the street from in between parked cars,” Dr. Gaines said. “Adults should always supervise trick-or-treaters and make sure they have brightly colored costumes or bags. When driving is absolutely necessary during the hours of trick-or-treating, motorists should use extreme caution.”

The appropriate costume can also help prevent injuries, Dr. Gaines said. Injuries from falls also are common on Halloween, caused when children trip because of the length of a costume or because they cannot see where they are walking. All trick-or-treaters should carry flashlights.

How much candy is too much?
Adults and kids should be careful not to overindulge in candy this Halloween, according to experts at Children’s Weight Management and Wellness Center.

“We encourage children to walk instead of being driven when trick-or-treating, so they are getting good exercise,” said Megan McQuaide, a registered dietitian in the center. “Kids can still enjoy Halloween and some of the candy they get from trick-or-treating, but the adults need to set some ground rules and make sure kids follow them.”

For instance, McQuaide recommends allowing a child to have two small pieces of candy a day – one in their lunch and one after dinner – for the first week or two following Halloween. After that, the candy should be discarded.

“Beyond that, the excitement of Halloween candy has worn off and people often find themselves eating the candy just because it’s there,” she said. “This approach is a good compromise that allows kids to enjoy Halloween without going overboard.”

How scary is too scary?
The scariest aspects of Halloween, such as haunted houses and frightening costumes, may be too overwhelming for young kids, according to child development experts at Children’s.

Gruesome costumes, spooky movies and frightening haunted houses can be emotionally stressful for children, especially for children under the age of 6, and for some older children as well, said Lawrence Newman, PhD, a psychologist in Behavioral Health at Children’s.

“Such Halloween traditions as haunted houses and horror movies are not intended for preschoolers and young children, who typically don't distinguish pretend from reality as well as older children,” Dr. Newman said. “Children can become overwhelmed with fear, or, later on, have nightmares or show other anxieties.”

When parents are unsure whether or not a Halloween event is appropriate for children, the first step is to learn about the event and what age group the event is intended for, according to Dr. Newman. When still unsure whether the event would be at the right developmental level, the best recommendation is then to discuss the scary aspects of the event with children beforehand, he said. When age-appropriate, parents can give the child the option of participating or not. Such discussions prepare the child that something might be pretend though possibly frightening. By including the child in the decision-making process, parents give him or her a sense of control over that involvement.

If children do want to go to a scary Halloween event, parents also should make sure kids know they can leave at any time during the visit if what they see is too frightening.

Learn more Halloween safety tips at Children’s Injury Prevention Web site.

Contacts:

Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-7919 or 412-692-5016, Marc.Lukasiak@chp.edu
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5502 or 412-692-5016, Melanie.Finnigan@chp.edu

Last Update
April 22, 2008
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Last Update
April 22, 2008
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