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Friday, October 24, 2008

Enjoy a less scary Halloween

The end of the month brings one of my favorite times of the year. What's not to like about candy, tricks and treats, scary movies, candy, costumes, a Charlie Brown special from my childhood, and of course more candy?

However, this time of year brings some challenges for parents not found during the rest of the year, and I'm not referring to finding the latest super hero costume.

Costumes are a great place to start in our safety checklist. You should make sure the kids' costumes fit correctly, because if they are too long a child can trip as they run from house to house. Of course, this is a problem not so much because of a skinned knee, but because the candy might spill and other kids could pick up your child's spoils. Make sure costumes are flame retardant and try to avoid masks; if you can, use face paint instead as it doesn't impede peripheral vision.

Make sure the costume can easily be seen at night. We would all like to believe that anyone driving on that evening will be extra vigilant, but kids can be very difficult to see, so give drivers a helping hand. A "chemlight" or "glow stick" is very valuable but inexpensive insurance. Besides, they look cool at night.

Stick to houses you know or go to a school or church event. This may mean fewer houses, but the upside is the treats are usually better if the people giving the treats know the kids coming to the door. Some public safety agencies or hospitals will X-ray bags of candy free of charge, but regardless, throw away any treats not in a tamper-proof wrapper unless you know the giver very well.

Ensure your kids know that vandalism and petty crimes such as shoplifting are crimes at any time of the year. Make them do clean up if they egg or toilet paper a home, and pay restitution if that is appropriate. Practical jokes can be fun if no one gets hurt and property is respected; help your kids know where the line is.

I can't urge you enough to go with your kids. Get into the spirit (no pun intended) and dress up yourself -- there is no substitute for your supervision. However, if that isn't possible, try these suggestions to keep everyone safe and having fun. Set the ground rules and a curfew, know where they are headed and provide a cell phone.

As kids get older they lose interest in trick or treating and instead opt for parties. If this is something your kids wish to do, consider being the house to throw the party. While it is usually a lot of work, you do get to know where your kids are and you get to see their friends in a social environment. Priceless.

You can rent a few scary movies or have a pumpkin carving contest. A Halloween-themed scavenger hunt in the neighborhood, or acting out a murder mystery, are great themed parties.

The one thing you should not do, under any circumstance, is provide, or allow minors to have, alcohol. This is illegal and can bite your backside more ways than you can count. No, not every parent does this, and it is a bad idea no matter the circumstances or precautions you take.

Halloween has been a fun and scary time for hundreds of years. With a little planning and a dose of common sense, your family can have a great time and both give and receive sweet treats. As for me, I like "Whoppers". . . and "Milk Duds". . . and "Jolly Ranchers". . . and, well I'm sure you get the idea.

From the Altmans, have a frighteningly good Halloween!

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a Ph.D. in Leadership studies at Texas A&M University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at

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