The summer is a wonderful time to enjoy the outdoors with children—picnicking in the backyard, exploring the parks, and splashing in the water. But the summer months are also the time for more injuries and emergency room visits for children. Keep in mind the following precautions so you can have a fun and safe summer.
Sun & Heat Protection
Although the sun might feel good on our skin, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause sunburn and skin cancer. Babies are at greatest risk because their skin is thinnest. Also, in very hot weather, young children can get overheated faster and develop dehydration and heatstroke. Here are some safety tips:
- Try to avoid outdoor play in direct sun at mid-day, especially on very hot days. The sun's rays are strongest between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. It's best to play outdoors earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon when it's cooler.
- Play in the shade. This is good for all children, but especially important for babies under 6 months of age. Always try to keep babies under the shade of a porch, tree, umbrella, or stroller.
- Dress children in light-colored, loose-fitting clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Tightly woven cotton fabrics are best.
- Have children wear hats. Hats with brims that shade the face and flaps that shade the neck are best. Sunglasses with UV protection can help protect a child's eyes.
- Use sunscreen. Sunscreen is recommended for all children over 6 months of age, and sparingly for babies under 6 months, since their skin absorbs more of the chemicals.
- Choose a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and has an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher—these will filter out over 90% of the harmful rays. Water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen is best if children are playing in the water.
- Apply the sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, especially the face, ears, neck, shoulders, and arms which are most exposed to the sun. Keep sunscreen away from the eyelids because it can burn if it gets into the eyes.
- Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming.
- Offer plenty of fluids. Offer her something to drink (water is best) every half hour. If she looks flushed or sweaty, have her drink more fluids and rest in the shade.
Insect Bites & Stings
Although most insect bites and stings are just painful and itchy, they can occasionally be more serious. For example, bee stings can cause allergic reactions in some children, tick bites can carry Lyme disease, and mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus. Some tips for avoiding insect bites and stings:
- Avoid the bugs. Don't use scented soaps, lotions or hair products since these can attract insects. Try to keep children away from garbage cans that attract yellow jackets and gardens in bloom that attract bees. Keep them away from anthills and from woodpiles that can harbor spiders and ticks. Bring children inside at dusk when the mosquitoes come out.
- Cover up. If children are playing in long grass, the woods, or outside at dusk, dress them in long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and tuck the pants into the socks.
- Consider using insect repellent. If children will be exposed to mosquitoes or ticks, insect repellent with 10% or less DEET is considered safe and effective over 2 months of age. It's safest to put the insect repellent on the outside of the child's clothes, with only a limited amount on exposed skin. Don't use DEET more than once a day. Also ask the doctor about other non-toxic alternatives.
- Inspect for ticks. At the end of the day, throw children's clothes into the laundry and check their bodies for ticks. Look especially on the scalp, neck, behind the ears, in the armpits, groin, and ankles. If you find a tick (which can be as small as a period on a printed page), remove it with a tweezers, then wash the skin with soap and water. If you remove the tick within the first 24 - 48 hours, children are unlikely to get Lyme disease. But contact the doctor if you have any concerns.
- If the child has an allergy to bee stings, always keep injectable epinephrine on hand.
Water play is a great way to cool off in the summer. But remember that young children can drown in as little as a few inches of water. And children can drown silently—they can slip underwater without screaming or splashing. Follow these water safety measures:
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- Constantly supervise children around water. An adult should stay within arm's reach at all times. Never leave baby alone with another young child.
- Look out for containers of water. Infants and toddlers can drown in toilets, 5-gallon buckets or ice coolers with water, and wading pools. Keep bathroom doors closed. Empty buckets, coolers, and wading pools after you use them, and store them upside down.
- Ensure safety around swimming pools and spas. Most drownings of young children occur in home swimming pools.
- If you have a home swimming pool, install a four-sided fence to completely enclose the pool—this prevents a child from wandering out the back door of the house into the pool, and can cut the risk of drowning in half. The fence should be at least 4 feet high and have a self-closing and self-latching gate, with the latch above the child's reach. A rigid, latched pool or spa cover and an alarm are also helpful.
- Have rescue equipment and a telephone by the pool, and post emergency numbers and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instructions.
- When swimming, stay within arm's reach of the child at all times. Don't rely on flotation devices like inflatable rings, wings, or rafts—they can slip off or deflate.
- When you leave the pool area, remove the steps from above-ground pools, and remove pool toys and balls, tricycles, and wagons that children might try to retrieve when you're not looking.
- Take special care at ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans. Waves, currents, undertows, plants, and underwater debris make swimming very unpredictable. Swim only in designated areas marked by signs or buoys. If you take your child boating, sailing, or canoeing, make sure everyone wears the proprer life jacket. Children's life jackets must be the right size, fit snugly, and be fastened correctly with all the straps, belts, and clasps.
- Consider swimming lessons. Most children are ready to begin swimming lessons at age 4 or 5. Lessons can help them feel more comfortable and be safer around water, but they don't guarantee that they're safe from drowning. Always make sure an adult supervises children in and around water, and teach them to swim with a buddy.
- Know CPR. In a drowning emergency, the sooner CPR is administered, the greater the chance of survival. Get CPR training and keep your skills updated through your local recreation department, adult education program, fire department, hospital, American Red Cross, or American Heart Association.
Summer Safety Part 2: Protecting Children in Your Backyard, on Playgrounds, and on Wheels