Summer Safety Tips: A Guide to Protecting Kids when Activities Heat Up

boy swimming in pool with goggles on

Longer days, lighter nights and more worrying. Yup, it's summer. And before your kids race out the door, you're doing all you can to protect them from sun, bugs, head injuries, etc.

There's something about this season that makes kids run faster and play harder. And like everything else parents carefully do to protect their kids -- cooking healthy kid food, hiring the right babysitters, buckling them into car seats (or shouting out seat belt reminders) -- summer takes preparation, too.

Here's how you and your summer babysitter or nanny can help keep kids safe this season -- without feeling like Summer Cop, monitoring the fun right out of their vacation.

Be Sun Savvy
Here's a summer-bummer: a person's sunlight exposure during childhood and adolescence is generally considered to increase the risk of melanoma. We've heard it all before, but make sure your family and caregivers all have the same sun-strategy. Vilma Cokkinides, PhD, strategic director, Risk Factor Surveillance for the American Cancer Society, helped come up with these tips for sun safety:

  • Apply early and repeat. For kids six months and older (as well as adults), sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or greater reduce the intensity of UVRs that cause sunburns. Apply liberally 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, so it can absorb into the skin and decrease the likelihood that it will be washed off. Reapply every two hours and after kids swim, sweat or dry off with a towel. For most users, proper application and reapplication are more important factors than using a product with a higher SPF.
  • Cover. Dress kids in protective clothing and hats. Clothing can be an excellent barrier of ultraviolet rays. Many light-weight sun-protective styles cover the neck, elbows and knees.
  • Keep infants out of the sun. Keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight, dressed in cool, comfortable clothing and wearing hats with brims. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says sunscreen may be used on infants younger than six months on small areas of skin if adequate clothing and shade are not available.
  • Plan early morning play. For kids beyond that baby stage, Cokkinides advises parents to plan outdoor activities to avoid peak-sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) as much as possible. Sound impossible for your active kids? Make sure you all can get a break from the sun, when needed.  
  • Beware of shade. Many people think sitting in the shade is a simple sun compromise. Shade does provide relief from the heat, but it offers parents a false sense of security about UVR protection. You can still sunburn in shade, because light is scattered and reflected. A fair-skinned person sitting under a tree can burn in less than an hour.
  • Check the weather. Look for the ultra-violet (UV) index (on a site like Weather.com) when planning outdoor activities; it predicts the intensity of UV light based on the sun's position, cloud movements, altitude, ozone data and other factors. Higher UV index numbers predict more intense UV light.

Splash Safely (and Other Water Rules)
Drowning happens quickly and quietly -- not with a lot of splashing, reminds Emily Samuel, water safety program manager for Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization solely dedicated to eliminating preventable childhood injuries. In fact, drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in kids one to four-years-old. Here are some helpful tips to prevent accidents around the water.

  • Stay off cell phones. Don't allow yourself to get distracted when your kids are in the water. And, yes, chatting with other parents is a common distraction as well.
  • Know your skills. Adults and caregivers should refresh their Infant Child CPR certification each year, especially before summer, if there is a pool involved. Kids should never swim alone, and having adults or caregivers know water safety skills is smart.
  • Put a guard up. Even kiddie pools in backyards should be drained after use, urges Samuel. For houses that have swimming pools, fencing should be at least four feet high and surround the pool on all sides, with doors that close and lock by themselves. Pool supply companies may offer options for alarms and other safety systems. Remember to never rely solely on an alarm or a fence. Train your kids to never go near the pool without an adult.
  • Educate yourself. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a pool safety guide where families can find out how to keep kids safer at any pool -- whether it's the community park or your child's camp.

Beware of Bugs
Unfortunately, those blood-sucking critters are a part of summer nights, and, yes, even days. Anjali Rao, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago gives these suggestions on how to stay safe from insects:

  • Spray and repeat. Parents or caregivers should spray kids' exposed skin and clothing. Reapply whenever the spray gets washed off or the child starts getting bitten again. For an alternative to sprays, try insect repellent pads that clip on clothes. 
  • Check for allergic reactions. Some kids react to insect bites more than others. If your child gets bitten and seems to have an allergic reaction to the bite, seek medical attention to see if you should give your child an oral antihistamine or other medication.
  • Beware of serious bug-borne illnesses. Most people who contract Eastern Equine Encephalitis ("Triple E"), a mosquito-transmitted illness, do not show any symptoms. But here's the good news: this illness occurs relatively infrequently and mostly in and around swampy areas where human populations tend to be limited. West Nile is another virus you'll hear about when the heat strikes. Basically, if there are symptoms of either of these illnesses, they are flu-like, so if you hear of instances in your area, and your child has bites and flu-symptoms (and muscle-stiffness for West Nile), go to a doctor. It's better to be safe.
  • Check for ticks. Ticks thrive in warm, moist, woodsy areas, so ideally kids should wear long clothing to cover their skin, but let's be realistic: in the heat of summer, that's hard to do. Dr. Richard Lichenstein, director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland Hospital for Children, says that to help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to your kids, check them and shower within two hours of coming indoors. Clothes are a culprit, too; ticks can come in on a t-shirt! If the clothes aren't dirty enough to need washing (dream on), do it anyway. Placing clothes in the dryer on high heat for at least an hour will kill any ticks.

    Kids six and older can check themselves, with adult guidance, but they must check their entire body, not just forearms and legs:  under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, around the waist, etc. If a child develops any rash or fever after a tick bite, visit the doctor.

Prevent Dehydration
You may be surprised how much -- and when -- kids should drink liquids. To prevent dehydration, kids should drink 12 ounces of fluid 30 minutes before an activity begins and take mandatory fluid breaks (like many day camps require), with kids under 90 pounds drinking five ounces every 20 minutes during activities and kids over 90 pounds drinking nine ounces every 20 minutes. Tip: A child's gulp equals a half-ounce of fluid, so your child should drink about 10 gulps for every 20 minutes of play. 

The Safe Kids Coalition urges parents and caregivers to watch for warning signs of dehydration, such as thirst, dry or sticky mouth, headache, muscle cramping, irritability, extreme fatigue, weakness, dizziness or decreased performance.  

Head Off Injuries
According to Dr. Jamie Freishtat, a pediatrician in the Washington, DC area, helmet safety is extremely important, particularly during the summer when kids spend lots of time outdoors riding bikes. Kids should always wear a properly fitting helmet that is approved by the CPSC for the activity they are doing (biking, skateboarding, etc). Why not take your child with you to pick it out at the shop, so he can have a say in the color and design? And, it may sound silly, but don't forget to fasten the chin strap -- lots of people don't bother. Make a family rule: no helmet, no wheels. And parents and caregivers, you must serve as an example: wear your own helmet! 

Never Wait in a Hot Car
It only takes 10 minutes for a car to heat up by 19 degrees. Every so often, we hear news stories of parents forgetting infants or leaving a sleeping toddler in the car, and tragedies that ensue. Never leave a child alone in a car, even for a minute. Degrees can be deceiving. Fatalities can occur at temperatures as low as the mid-50s because a vehicle heats up so quickly. Children are at a great risk for heat stroke because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's does. Cracking a window? Not a solution. Some advanced technologies are still being developed that may help prevent heat stroke deaths in vehicles, but nothing has been proven effective yet.

Create a Summer Survival Kit
Here is some smart stuff that Dr. Lichenstein recommends parents and caregivers carry around in a purse, bag or car for summer emergencies:

  • Cell phone
  • Water
  • Medications for chronic conditions
  • Bandages
  • Antibiotic cream for cuts and scrapes
  • Crushable icepack for bruises
  • Benadryl
  • An epi-pen for a person with known allergies
  • Sun protection
  • Hats and sunglasses
  • Insect repellent
  • Tweezers 

Don't get overwhelmed by all this information and decide to keep your kids locked indoors all summer, hidden under the bed. Summer is a time for having fun, and a few bug bites and scrapes are worth it. Just make sure you and your summer nanny or babysitter are informed about these important summer safety tips -- print these tips out, so you can refresh yourself often -- then stop worrying, go have fun and enjoy your summer!

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan.  Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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Comments (3)
Photo of Victoria H.
Victoria H.
Love the summer kit will be carrying those things with me all summer long. Extremely helpful thank you.
Posted: May 09, 2013 at 2:50 PM
Morgan H.
This was a very helpful reminder for me. Thank you.
Posted: July 15, 2011 at 5:02 PM
Photo of Jo J.
Jo J.
This was very helpful. Even though most of the information is not new to me, it was good to be reminded of all of the safety tips.

Also, the info about "shade" not taking the place of sunscreen was good to know.

Thank you for posting these, and the list of "What to carry with you."
Posted: June 16, 2011 at 11:15 AM
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