Warmer days, the sun’s out into the evening, and grown-ups caring for kids have a little more to worry about. Yup, it’s summer — the fun-filled season that makes kids run faster and play harder, which can also mean more potential for danger.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that unintentional injuries including burns and drowning are the leading cause of death in children ages 19 and younger, but most of these childhood injuries can be prevented. The watchful eye of a responsible adult can mean the difference between a summer of fun and one overcome with tragedy.
So before you and the kids race out the door, it’s important to be extra vigilant about protecting everyone from sun, bug bites, water and the rest. Get prepared with these summer safety tips for kids.
1. Be sun savvy
“Kids’ skin is more susceptible to damage from sun, so it’s very important that they wear hats and don’t spend too much time in the sun,” says Dr. G. Remington Brooks, medical director of Molina Healthcare.
Apply sunscreen early and repeat.
- “Always wear sunblock with an SPF (sun protection factor) greater than 30,” says Brooks.
- For kids 6 months and older (as well as adults), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection and at least SPF 15 (up to SPF 50).
- Apply liberally 15-30 minutes before sun exposure so it can absorb into the skin and decrease the likelihood that it will be washed off.
- “Remember,” says Brooks, “that [sunscreen] doesn’t last forever and should be applied every couple of hours.” Reapply every two hours and after kids swim, sweat or dry off with a towel.
- For most users, proper application and reapplication is more important than using a product with a higher SPF.
Keep infants out of the sun
- The AAP says to keep babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight and in the shade.
- For babies younger than 6 months, AAP says it’s OK to use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available.
- Dress kids in protective clothing and hats.
- Clothing can be an excellent barrier of ultraviolet (UV) rays, and many lightweight, sun-protective styles cover the neck, elbows and knees.
Avoid peak sun hours
- As much as possible, plan early morning play and “find shade between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun is the most direct,” says Brooks.
Beware of shade
While shade does provide relief from the heat, it can also provide a false sense of security about sun protection. You can still get a sunburn in the shade because light is scattered and reflected.
Check the weather
When planning outdoor activities, look up the day’s “UV Index” on most weather apps. Higher UV index numbers predict more intense UV light, which is more dangerous to skin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), levels 3-7 call for sun protection, and levels of 8+ calls for extra sun protection.
Teach kids the shadow rules
This shadow tip, per the EPA, is a good one to teach older kids:
- If your shadow is taller than you are (early morning, late afternoon), your UV exposure is likely to be lower.
- If your shadow is shorter than you are (around midday), you’re being exposed to higher levels of UV radiation. Seek shade and protect skin and eyes.
2. Stay on high-alert near water
Drowning happens quickly and quietly — not with a lot of splashing, says Emily Samuel, water safety program director 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 1 to 4 years old. Here are some helpful tips to prevent accidents around water:
Stay off cell phones
Don’t allow yourself to get distracted when kids are in the water. And, yes, chatting with other grown-ups is a common distraction, as well.
Know your safety skills
If there is a pool involved in your summer plans, adults and caregivers should be certified in child and baby first aid/CPR and take refresher courses as needed. Kids should never swim alone, and having adults or caregivers know water safety skills is smart.
Put a guard up
For houses with swimming pools, fencing should be at least 4-feet high and surround the pool on all sides, with doors that close and lock by themselves. Pool supply companies may offer alarms or other safety options, but never rely solely on a fence or alarm. Train kids to never go near the pool without an adult. And even kiddie pools in backyards should be drained after use, Samuel says.
Take swim safety education seriously
Pick a highly visible bathing suit color
Here’s a tip to consider early in summer. Alive Solutions Inc., a group that specializes in water safety training and education, tested different colored swimsuits to show how difficult they may be to spot in different bodies of water. The final verdict? Neon-colored swimsuits offer some of the best visibility in all water conditions.
3. Beware of bugs
Unfortunately, blood-sucking critters like mosquitoes are a part of summer nights, and, yes, even days. Dr. Anjali Rao, a pediatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, gives these suggestions on how to stay safe from insects:
Spray and repeat
Spray kids’ exposed skin and clothing, and 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. For kids who get bitten and seem 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
It’s good to familiarize yourself with any mosquito-borne illnesses in and around where you live. West Nile virus is one of the most common ones, and Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) has been reported in rare cases in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states. 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 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 in Baltimore, suggests these tips to help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to kids:
- Check kids and give them a shower within two hours of coming indoors.
- Check and wash clothes, too, even if they aren’t dirty (dream on). Placing clothes in the dryer on high heat for at least an hour will kill any ticks.
- Kids 6 and older can check themselves with adult guidance, but they must check their entire body: legs, forearms, underarms, in and around ears, back of knees, in and around hair, between legs, around waist, inside belly button, etc.
If a child develops any rash or fever after a tick bite, visit the doctor.
4. Prevent dehydration
You may be surprised how much — and when — kids should drink water. To prevent dehydration, kids who play sports or are very physically active should drink extra fluids beforehand, and then take regular water breaks (about every 20 minutes) during the activity, recommends KidsHealth.
Here’s a helpful “gulps-per-play-minutes” tip from Safe Kids Worldwide:
- Young kids should drink about 10 gulps for every 20 minutes of play
- Teens should drink about 20 gulps for every 20 minutes of play.
Grown-ups should watch for warning signs of dehydration and notify a pediatrician immediately if any of these symptoms develop, according to the AAP. These symptoms may include a parched dry mouth, less frequent urination (for infants, fewer than six wet diapers per day), less play than usual, and, in more severe cases, extreme fussiness or sleepiness.
5. Head off injuries
According to Dr. Jamie Freishtat, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., helmet safety is extremely important, particularly during the summer when kids spend a lot of time riding bikes outdoors.
- Kids should always wear a properly fitting helmet that is approved by the CPSC for the activity they are doing (biking, skateboarding, etc.).
- Don’t forget to fasten the chin strap — some people don’t bother.
- Make a family rule: no helmet, no wheels!
- Parents and caregivers, you must serve as an example by wearing your own helmet.
6. Never leave kids alone in cars
Every year, we hear news stories of a parent forgetting an infant or leaving a sleeping toddler in the car and the tragedies that ensue. Never leave a child alone in a car, even for a minute. These are the facts you need to know about car safety, according to the AAP:
- It only takes 10 minutes for a car to heat up by 20 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
- Heatstroke can occur inside a car even when outside temperatures are as low as 57 F.
- A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s does.
- Cracking a window is not a viable solution and won’t keep a child safe.
7. Beware of burn hazards
According to a report from Safe Kids Worldwide, over 1,700 children (between 0 and 19) visited emergency rooms for burns every week and six of those kids died as a result of being burned. In summer, there are the obvious culprits that involve open flames, like backyard fire pits, barbecue grills and decorative tiki torches. But there are other dangers you may not even have on your radar like the outdoor hose, which can pose serious burn hazards for kids at home.
“People have to be mindful to keep kids away from anything that gets very hot,” Brooks says.
Playground equipment and the metal parts of objects like seatbelts can also become incredibly hot if left in the sun, so teach kids to exercise caution when coming into contact with them.
8. Create a summer safety kit
Here are some safety items that Lichenstein recommends parents and caregivers carry in their bag or car for summer emergencies:
- Medications for chronic conditions.
- Antibiotic cream for cuts and scrapes.
- Instant cold pack for bruises.
- An EpiPen for a person with known allergies.
- Sun protection.
- Hats and sunglasses.
- Insect repellent.
Being cautious and prepared doesn’t have to equate to getting overwhelmed and keeping kids locked indoors all summer. 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. And then stop worrying, go have fun and enjoy your summer!