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Parents, take back Halloween!

Debbie Mandel, MA, is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Brooklyn College.

Halloween safety

Halloween is supposed to be a fun holiday created for the purpose of blowing off some steam. However, sugary candy, scary costumes and a few mean little tricks abound. Here's advice for keeping the holiday safe and fun.

Children trick or treating

We live in different times

Our complex time period has catapulted children from innocence to experience at a tender age. They can't simply go trick or treating because some adults wearing masks might abduct them, put razor blades in their treats and besides some of the costumes are terribly frightening, not just to children, but to adults also. Parents have to draw the line based on their own carefully considered boundaries. Here are some tips to help you decide on the constraints while you retain the spirit of the celebration.

Understand what donning a costume and mask really means: Trying on another identity which children do throughout childhood and adolescence. When children put on costumes, they fantasize what it feels like to act out another part of the self, even the self that they never thought existed. When they remove it, they return to their core; however, some children are affected and become jittery from scary costumes, have more nightmares and feel a bit unsettled for days or weeks after. It resembles the effect of a horror movie with its frightening plot and scary music. Some of us can handle it and laugh, while others can't shut off the fear. Know your child! Age isn't always a determinant.

Establish clear boundaries

TV, news and movies have contributed to making us de-sensitized as a nation. Our sense of horror has evolved from vampires to Osama Bin Laden. In short, the boundaries of good taste may have blurred in the media, but need not to at home. It is inappropriate to allow children to dress up mocking other races, religions or resurrecting acts of cruelty like the: Klan, Hitler, Freddie Krueger, etc. We don't need to reinforce a negative mindset.

Bear in mind that those cruel and degrading high school and college hazings, young people blowing off steam, had to come from somewhere. Don't let costumes re-enact negative values. Why transmit even subtly that evil is powerful. Try to get together with other parents to plan out and support more positive, fun and witty costumes. There is power in numbers when parents band together.

Organize a party

Even better, celebrate at an organized party in someone's home, school gym, or church with all the parents contributing and helping out. You can set the mood with music, lighting, and even healthy snacks and treats wrapped in traditional Halloween decorations. Children don't have to be told that these snacks are healthy. Let that be part of the mystery.

Take the terror out of trick or treating

Have a supervising adult accompany young children until age 11 or 12. You can rotate the patrol every hour. For older children make sure they set out in groups and have check-in phone call times along with an itinerary of their route. Have your children carry flashlights to light the way. Tell them it contributes to the festivities.

Halloween costume? Think safety first

Consider the weather and fabric safety when designing a costume - especially for trick or treat. Some parts of the country are quite cold at this time of year, so dress children warmly -- make it part of the outfit. Also, many children get injured from costumes that are too long, or head gear that is clumsy causing them to trip.

Control snacks

Portion control those sugary, fatty high calorie snacks as an obesity epidemic is sweeping the country. Deprivation never works during a celebration, but portion control does help. Should your child be extremely successful in toting home the stash, reinforce the idea of giving a lot of the candy to charity -- to poor children who are far less fortunate. Otherwise with all that candy around until Thanksgiving, we are just reinforcing poor eating habits. Also, I know plenty of adults who can't resist Halloween candy in the pantry, either!

Halloween is a children's holiday. Let's keep it that way. That means parental supervision, clearly defined rules and wholesome fun. Vulgarity and evil should not be played out in a child's consciousness. Because what is experienced on just one day, can transform a child's imagination instilling: fear, nervousness and even cruelty. Our greatest gift to children is ourselves -- get involved in their costumes, food and fun. In so doing you will release the inner child in you!

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