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According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, 40 percent of children’s emergency room visits happen between May and August. Add to that the potential for sunburns, bug bites, and other warm weather hazards, and it’s no wonder some parents can’t wait for the kids to go back to school.
Here are five tips for keeping your kids safe and happy this summer.
1. Protect against sunburn
Childhood sunburns are not only uncomfortable; they can increase a child’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone —not just kids — generously applies a broad-spectrum (protecting against both UVA and UVB rays) and water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 to all exposed skin. At least one ounce of sunscreen (enough to fill a shot glass) should be applied at least 15 minutes before going outdoors, and then reapplied as directed on the label.
Look for formulas designed especially for kids and babies which not only may be easier to apply, but may contain fewer chemicals in favor of physical barriers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
2. Guard against the creepy crawlies
Summer brings mosquitoes, ticks and other pests that can carry dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Triple-E), and West Nile Virus. If your kids are planning to spend time outdoors, be sure to use insect repellent. (Hint: Apply it after sunscreen, not before.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), products with DEET typically provide the longest-lasting protection. However, non-toxic alternatives such as oil of lemon eucalyptus and picaridin are available and can be just as effective as products with low levels of DEET. Regardless of which product you choose, be sure to read the label for age restrictions and frequency of application.
When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid your kids’ eyes, mouth, and any cuts or wounds. Don’t apply the repellent to children’s hands (which may wind up in their mouths) or under clothing. When kids are done playing, be sure to do a tick check. Pay particular attention to areas such as under the arms, between the legs, around the waist, inside the navel, and on the hairline and scalp.
3. Be vigilant around water
According to the CDC, one in five unintentional drowning victims is a child under the age of 14. Safety around pools, lakes, and the ocean is a must.
When they’re as young as a year old, enroll your kids in swimming lessons; when kids know how to swim, the risk of drowning drops dramatically. That said, never leave kids unattended around water, regardless of their age or how well they swim. Be sure pools have proper fencing and that gates are latched or locked when not in use. Choose beaches with on-duty lifeguards, and teach children to obey their instructions and to heed warnings. Finally, select high quality life jackets or other flotation devices and be sure kids are wearing them properly. The U.S. Coast Guard (uscgboating.org) has a free downloadable brochure on choosing the right life jacket.
4. Practice bike safety
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent. In fact, it’s Massachusetts law that anyone 16 years old or younger riding a bike on a public way, bicycle path, or other public right-of-way, wears a helmet. Parents need to make sure their kids stay safe and abide by the law by wearing a helmet that fits and is adjusted properly.
In addition, making sure kids ride bikes that fit is important, too. Your child should be able to straddle the bike flat-footed with two to four inches of clearance between the bike and your child. The seat and handlebar positions should be adjusted for a slight bend in the elbow and slight bend in the knee during the downstroke. Most of all, don’t buy a bike that’s too big, hoping they’ll grow into it. It can be hard to maneuver and downright dangerous.
5. Stay hydrated
Kids can quickly become dehydrated, especially if they’re active in summer sports leagues or just having fun playing at camp. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a 90-pound child drink four to six ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes when exercising.
What about sports drinks and energy drinks? The AAP says sports drinks, which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring, are intended to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating. While sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, in most cases they’re not necessary. Energy drinks, on the other hand, should never be consumed by kids because of their high caffeine content. Likewise, sodas, juices, and other fruit drinks should be avoided as well.
Camp leaders, coaches, and other caregivers should know how to spot the early signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, which include thirst, fatigue, cramping, dizziness, nausea, headaches, breathing problems, and other symptoms.