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Plan for a safe night of Halloween fun

IT'S the time of year for us to let our children head outside in the evening and go up and down the block, knocking on doors. Sounds strange, but that's Halloween. I am in the mood. Last week I was on holidays and found myself in Salem, Mass.

IT'S the time of year for us to let our children head outside in the evening and go up and down the block, knocking on doors. Sounds strange, but that's Halloween.

I am in the mood. Last week I was on holidays and found myself in Salem, Mass., home of the famous witch trials of the 1600s. The town is still defined by this time and with Halloween on the horizon it was a busy place indeed with tours of the sites pertinent to those times. The only way I avoided the temptation to purchase a very cool witch's hat was the thought of trying to get it home on the plane.

To this day there still are witches living in Salem. For them it is their identity. But for our children, for one night only, witches along with ghosts and goblins, cartoon characters, fairy-tale heroes and heroines and comic book super heroes define the day.

It's a great holiday for kids but one that makes parents nervous. The trick is to plan to make it a safe and fun day for all.

Toddlers will only want to go to a few familiar homes and they'll want you to go right to the door with them. Once they are in elementary school they'll need you with them but prefer that you stay back a short distance. By about 10 or 11 they'll be ready to head out alone with a few friends.

If at all possible, talk to the friend's parents so you can co-ordinate your rules and expectations. It's always helpful when all the kids in a group know that their parents have talked to each other and the rules are set for all of them. Have at least one of the kids carry a cell phone so they can reach you if need be. But don't call them; trust them.

We'd all prefer that the kids be out in daylight but of course that's just not the point. The fun is being out after dark. So, light up the kids. A flashlight and anything fluorescent will allow them to see and make them visible to others. Pick up a roll of reflective tape to add to the costume. Kids also like the glow in the dark stickers and necklaces. These are fun for the kids and makes them safer. White pillowcases make good loot bags, as they are also visible.

Whether you're going with the kids or they're heading out (gulp!) alone, plan the route. If you involve your kids with this right from when they're young, they'll just expect that this is part of the routine. Have them walk down one side of a block, cross at a well-lit intersection and return down the other side. Darting back and forth across the street is very dangerous.

Make sure they understand to only go to houses that are well-lit. A dark house is a sign that the owners are either out or don't want to participate. These are things you will have been teaching them during the years that you accompanied them, so they will know what to expect.

Plan a route that makes home the middle of the trek. That way, when they check in, they can empty their bags if they wish and either continue or call it a night.

Tell your trick-or-treaters not to eat anything until you've had a chance to check it out. Toss anything that looks suspicious, torn, opened or tampered with and only eat homemade treats if you know the giver. So now, at the halfway point you have a chance to check the candy they've received so they can eat some of their treats.

And here's a neat trick. Younger children tend to receive more candy. The cute little kids really do get a lot of loot. So, recycle. Save the favourites and because a toddler or preschooler is home earlier than the bigger kids, check the stuff for safety and then hand it out to other kids visiting your house.

Halloween masks are simply a bad idea. They can prevent a child from seeing well so unless they're going to an indoor party, use makeup.

Costumes need to be short enough so that a child will not trip and they need to be loose enough to take a nice warm jacket underneath. Depending on the weather, mittens and hats may be in order.

Fireworks and firecrackers are a serious concern. Children don't understand that these items can burn, so they treat them as toys. Make sure your children are aware of the dangers.

Many neighbourhoods have organized fireworks so you can arrange with the kids that they go out trick-or-treating then return home and head off with you to watch the fireworks.

This also sets a time limit on how long they are out trick-or-treating because they will want to be home in time to see the light show.

Kathy Lynn is a parenting expert who is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at www.parentingtoday. ca.