Summer Safety Tips: A Guide to Protecting Kids when Activities Heat Up
Longer days, lighter nights, and more um, 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. 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.
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. Then 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. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept 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 6 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 children's 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 can get a break from the sun, when needed.
Beware of shade. Many think sitting in the shade is a simple way out. Shade provides relief from heat but offers parents a false sense of security about UVR protection. People 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. Check the ultra-violet (UV) index (on a site like Weather.com) when planning outdoor activities; it predicts the intensity of UV light for the following day based on the sun's position, cloud movements, altitude, ozone data, and other factors. Higher UV index numbers predict more intense UV light during midday of the following day.
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.
Stay off cell phones. Don't even 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 fully rely on an alarm or a fence. You must also train your kids to never go near the pool without an adult.
Educate yourself. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has a pool safety website 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:
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 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, shares this important advice: 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 lots of areas, 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, and around the waist. If a child develops any rash or fever after a tick bite, it's time to visit the doctor.
You may be surprised how much - and when - kids should drink. 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 9 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 such as thirst, dry or sticky mouth, headache, muscle cramping, irritability, extreme fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or decreased performance.
Head Off Injuries
Dr. Jamie Freishtat, a pediatrician in the Washington, DC area, offers some reminders around helmet safety. Kids should wear a properly fitting helmet that is approved by the CPSC for the activity they are doing (biking, skateboarding, etc) every single time. 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. 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. Safe Kids Worldwide advises parents - and hopes parents will remind caregivers - to 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.
Worth Schlepping: A Summer Survival Kit
Dr. Lichenstein describes some smart stuff a parent or caregiver can carry around in a purse, bag or car for summer emergencies:
- Cell phone
- Medications for chronic conditions
- Antibiotic cream for cuts and scrapes,
- Crushable icepack for bruises,
- An epi-pen for a person with known allergies
- Sun protection
- Hats and sunglasses
- Insect repellent
Let's not forget our sanity with all these safety measures to take and remember. With all this stuff to worry about, carry around and do to have a safe and enjoyable summer, it may not be long before we are wishing for winter!
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