Halloween is just around the corner. We sat down with Rania Mankarious, Chief Executive Officer of Houston’s Crime Stoppers, who gave us expert tips for having a fun, safe Halloween with little ones.

First, a little about you:

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and how you came to work in this arena?

I was raised in a home that cared a lot about public safety and social responsibility. It was just part of our everyday conversations and shaped my education and career. Following college, I earned a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and then went onto Law School. I believed that people’s actions and inactions usually stem from their personal foundations, those foundations are mostly defined by their family dynamics.

Additionally, the study of law was very important to me. In order to understand justice, we need to know what’s allowed, not allowed and what tools are available to us as a community. We also have a civic duty to change laws as needed. I love working in this area. So many years later, I have found that public safety, social justice, and the safety of all of us in our homes, businesses, neighborhoods, and schools is of the utmost importance to everyone who calls Houston home.

Your favorite part of Halloween?

Is giving out candy! I love hearing the doorbell ring, seeing kids in their costumes, and talking to the little ones!

Favorite Halloween candy?

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

And lastly, best Halloween memory.

Growing up in Boston and trick-or-treating with friends on brisk fall nights where it got dark a little earlier, leaves were falling and kids ran with flashlights! How times have changed!!

And now to the more serious, but crucial bit:

While out trick or treating, what can parents do to ensure their babies and toddlers are safe?

  • Since toddlers aren’t stable walkers under ideal conditions, you’ll need to take extra precautions on Halloween. When choosing a costume, make sure it’s short enough so that fabric won’t become a tripping hazard. Also, be wary of shoelaces coming untied. Porch steps, pumpkins, and other yard Halloween decorations may also cause your child to trip or fall.
  • Even if you plan to walk hand-in-hand, consider utilizing reflector tape in case your little one slips away for even a second.
  • Parents – be alert! Always walk on sidewalks or paths. If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible. Cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. Put your electronic devices down and keep your head up.
  • Many treats are not appropriate for babies and toddlers. Be sure to investigate treats before letting your children eat them. Not only should you be on the lookout for hard candies that may be choking hazards – including nuts, popcorn, and lollipops – you should examine each wrapper to make sure it hasn’t been opened or possibly tampered with.

Is there anything or anyone in particular parents should look out for?

While “stranger danger” is a conversation we should be having with our children all year round, it is important to reiterate to your child that it still applies on Halloween.

Explain to your young child that you are only trick-or-treating at homes of people you know or trust. Instruct your older children to follow a planned route and to only stop at homes they know. Provide an explanation about strangers that is age appropriate – the goal is not to make your child fearful but to encourage them to be aware of their surroundings.

Most parents are aware of the basic Halloween safety considerations, but what’s the one thing most are unaware of, in your experience?

Beware of Halloween cyber tricks! The most common Halloween scams include:

  • Halloween phishing email – phishing emails are a type of social engineering attack created to steal user data, credit card information etc. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Hover over any links within emails to see where it is actually directing you.
  • Fake event tickets – make sure any event tickets you are buying are from a legitimate seller. In past years, counterfeit tickets have been sold to pumpkin patches, costume parties, and haunted houses. Be sure dates, times, locations are all legitimate before downloading electronic tickets.
  • Online costume purchases – check user reviews and comments before making purchases for what seem like discounted or cheap costume options. Do not rely on the site’s seemingly official appearance.

Let’s talk about costumes. Anything parents should be aware of here?

  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and, if possible, choose light colors.
  • Choose face paint and makeup whenever possible instead of masks, which can obstruct a child’s vision.
  • Have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights to help them see and be seen by drivers.
  • When selecting a costume, make sure it is the right size to prevent trips and falls.

Monogrammed everything is cute and a convenient way to keep track of things. Should parents be a little more cautious about labeling their child’s name all over something that everyone around them can read?

Is it okay to monogram? For older children… yes! But think it through. If possible, stick to initials only. If you do decide to use a full name or nickname, simply have a conversation with your child:

“Remember, your name is literally written here in plain sight. If a stranger calls you by your name or nickname, it means nothing, other than the fact that s/he read it on your backpack.” This requires that you’re talking to a child old enough to understand the point you’re making, of course. And guess what, when talked about without emotion or fear, it becomes a simple reminder that your kids appreciate.

Best piece of advice you have is:

Have fun and stay alert! Halloween is no different than any other day – you should always be public-safety minded!