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The family way
6:00am Saturday 26th October 2013 in Lifestyle
Parents shouldn't let the spooks and sparklers of Halloween and Bonfire Night distract them from keeping youngsters safe, writes Lisa Salmon.
Witches, ghouls, sickly trick or treat sweets, dazzling firework displays, sizzling rockets; there's no denying Halloween and Bonfire Night are a lot of fun for children.
But such fun doesn't come without risks, and it's crucial that mums and dads ensure their excited offspring come to no harm on what can be dark and dangerous nights.
"Halloween and Bonfire Night are great fun events for families, but parents sometimes need reminding that occasionally things can go wrong," says Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT). "And who needs their evening spoilt with a horrible, frantic dash to A&E?
"If you bear simple safety measures in mind though, it'll keep both nights fun and safe."
Of course the first date in the calendar is Halloween. The risks here are unlikely to be supernatural, but some parents' fears are still not based on hard facts; because many assume the risk of Halloween lies in children accepting sweets from strangers as they trick-or-treat, but actually Phillips says scare stories of razor blades hidden in apples are likely to be urban myths. One of the most real dangers of Halloween is in fact children dressed in dark fancy dress outfits getting hit by cars.
"The combination of dark, ghoulish clothes and dark nights means it's quite hard for drivers to see children out trick or treating," Phillips points out.
"They need reminding to drive more slowly than normal, as there's going to be kids where they don't expect them."
Phillips also suggests parents put reflective stickers on children's fancy dress outfits, so drivers can see them more easily.
A week later, Bonfire Night needs just as much - if not more - parental caution. Sheila Merrill, public health adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says the most recent figures suggest that around 1,000 people visit A&E with firework-related injuries in the four weeks around Bonfire Night, with under-18s suffering half of the injuries.
"Parents need to make sure children and young people are aware of the dangers - fireworks are explosives that can maim them or someone else for life," she warns.
"They are not toys and should never be used as missiles."
Merrill says organised events are the safest place to enjoy a firework display, but adds: "If you can't get to one and hold your own, remember to put safety first and follow the firework code."
RoSPA says the most common firework injuries are to hands, followed by the eyes and face, and Phillips adds that many of these injuries are caused by sparklers.
"We wouldn't recommend giving sparklers to children under five, because they're too little to understand how dangerous they can be.
"Sparklers are often seen as safe, and are given to little children, but they can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius, which is five times hotter than cooking oil.
"So assuming you wouldn't have your three-year-old playing with your chip pan, think twice about giving them sparklers."
Phillips says three sparklers burning together generate the same heat as a blowtorch, and warns that because they get so hot they take a long time to cool down - and children can be burned by them long after they've gone out. It's a good idea to put sparklers in a bucket of water when they've gone out.
CAPT advises that parents don't hold a sparkler while holding a baby, keep an eye on all children, and encourage them to wear gloves and not to run around waving sparklers.
It's also suggested that a nominated adult is the person responsible for keeping children away from the bonfire.
"Like you have designated drivers for nights out, you might want to have designated grown-ups for who's keeping an eye on the kids, making sure no kids get too close to the bonfire and fireworks," suggests Phillips.
"Otherwise, everybody thinks everybody else is doing it."
Justine Roberts, chief executive of the parent social networking site Mumsnet.com, warns that as in addition to all this safety, practical considerations are also worth bearing in mind with young children.
"Bonfire Night can be tricky with very small people," she says.
"Plenty of them find the loud bangs quite upsetting, so take ear defenders and/or be prepared to flee inside."
As for Halloween, Roberts says Mumsnetters' opinions are divided.
"They're split down the middle on whether Halloween's a colourful diversion which is great for family fun, or an American-inspired abomination to be avoided at all costs."
The website's tongue-in-cheek advice for Halloween includes buying far too many sweets so parents can eat the left-overs, and sticking with tradition and handing all costumeless visitors an overly-polished penny.
For those who really hate Halloween, they suggest putting a basket by your front door with a sign on it saying: 'We've gone out, but help yourselves to these' - then leave the basket empty.
Alternatively, of course, you can simply shut the curtains, turn off the lights, sit in the dark and pretend you're out...
:: For more information about safer firework displays, visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) site www.saferfireworks.com
Ask the expert
Q: "My son's trying to decide whether going to university next year is worth the huge financial burden. What advice and support is available?"
A: Danny Williams is a presenter on the Student Finance Tour, which is part of the Government's Make Your Future Happen: Discover Higher Education campaign.
He says: "A degree is one of the best routes to gaining a good job and a rewarding career, as well as invaluable life experiences. Yes, university fees seem expensive, but from my experience, they're worth every penny.
"There's a range of financial help available if you want to send your son to university and if you're eligible you don't have to pay for course fees up front.
"Your son could get a tuition fee loan and help with living costs, and will only begin to repay after he's left university and is earning over £21,000 a year. In fact, repayments are linked to what you earn rather than what you borrowed, so if your son's income ever falls below £21,000 his repayments will stop until the situation changes.
"He may also qualify for grants and bursaries, depending on your financial situation, so it's worth checking these with the university.
"Many students also get part-time jobs while they're studying, which is not only a great help with their finances, but also teaches them how to juggle a work/life balance and gain new skills.
"The Make Your Future Happen campaign aims to help students and parents get the information they need about higher education. Also www.gov.uk/unimoney is a great place to get more information to help your son make his future happen."
:: Mamas & Papas Baby Witch Outfit
Dress baby for Halloween in this wickedly cute costume, which comes with a hooded top, skirt and tights. Suitable from birth to two years, £20, available from Mamas & Papas stores nationwide.
:: Buttonbag Creepy Craft Kit
Contains fabric, tools and instructions to create eerie Halloween decorations and creepy fancy dress accessories, including two rats, two bats and two spiders, eyebrows and moustaches. Suitable for age six plus, £12.95, available from www.buttonbag.co.uk.
:: The Gobstopper Potion Mix
A devilishly delicious witches' brew of candy treats, including: worms, bats, turtles and foam mushrooms. Available in three sizes (0.5ltr, 1ltr and 3ltr), priced from £9.99, available from www.thegobstopper.co.uk. Last ordering date for Halloween is October 28.
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