You've been hearing about it for months. Your child's ideal costume has ranged from a firefighter to Chipper Jones to one of the "Eat Mor Chikin" cows. Now it's your job to make sure his Halloween fantasies come true.
What are the tricks that lead to a great Halloween?
"The parent-child participation, making costumes and the excitement of preparing for it are all positive experiences," said Connie Crawley, an Extension Service food and nutrition specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Costumes don't have to break the bank, either. Children can find fun, comfortable costumes in an old dress-up box in your attic. Makeup and nonflammable wigs can be easily added for creativity.
All costumes, whether do-it-yourself or store-bought, should have reflector patches that make it easy for others to see the child at night, said Don Bower, an FCS human development specialist.
When spicing up your child's costume, face makeup is often safer than masks.
"However, if you include a mask in the outfit, make sure the mask doesn't block the child's vision," Bower said. He also cautions parents not to dress children in floppy shoes or long dresses, shirts or pants that might trip children and cause them to fall.
Some of the things parents worry about at Halloween, such as vandalism and adulteratedÿ candy, can be avoided with proper precautions. Bower said parents should "accompany childrenÿ and visit only homes you know."
If older children do travel alone, warn them to stay in groups, never enter a residence and only approach homes that have outside lights on as a sign of welcome.
In spite of the negative stories you might hear about Halloween, it can be a very positiveÿ holiday experience for families, Crawley said. "There are always questions concerning how scary it can be for children. Each family has to make an individual decision about their child's reaction."
For those on the other side of the doorway, the esteemed treat-givers, there are many alternatives to sugary, fatty candy for kids that won't leave you looking like the big, bad witch.
"Prepackaged food like raisins in the box, bags of peanuts and crackers are good substitutes for candy," says Crawley. "Also coloring books, crayons, stickers, special pencils, money, Halloween jewelry, sugar free gum, toothbrushes and even specially flavored dental floss are alternatives. If it's cute enough, a child will enjoy it!"
Crawley said that a small child should never be given balloons or small toys with moving, detachable parts. She said that when deciding what to give small children, remember that children sometimes can't digest nuts or raisins. "Juice boxes, Teddy Grahams and animal crackers are good choices for smaller children," she says.
Fruit is an often-debated alternative to candy.ÿ "You can give it to the children whom you know," Crawley said. Most families you don't know will likely prefer wrapped or prepackaged treats that are easier to identify as safe.
She said oranges are the best fruit to give because the child can easily carry them and they will withstand a lot of dragging around."
The festivities don't stop with trick-or-treating. "You can downplay door-to-door begging by bringing the kids together for games," she said. According to Crawley, among the many great activities for children are bobbing for apples, making a Halloween pizza or decorating apples with raisins, peanut butter and cheese.
(Heather Hardy is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)