There are few things that go better together than kids and summertime. Long, sunscreen-scented days at the pool or beach. Humid evenings full of fireflies. Sticky chunks of watermelon on porch swings. Dewy grass and sand between your toes. But along with all this magic come some real concerns for safety.
After four years as an RN on an inpatient pediatric unit, I know that summer is the time of year kids are most likely to get hurt. From mild sunburns to serious injuries, summer brings some legitimate safety concerns along with all of that sunshine and fun.
As parents, we want our kids to experience the kind of summers they will remember for a lifetime. But we also want them to stay safe. Luckily there are plenty of practical ways to minimize risk. Follow these simple steps, and you might be able to actually relax a little from time to time.
1. Watch out for cookout choking hazards.
Grapes, hotdogs, popcorn, and peanuts are all fun, delicious, and likely to appear at a summer cookout. But they are also all very real choking hazards identified by the American Academy of Pediatrics. As a general safety precaution during the summer and throughout the year, if you have a child under four years old, these foods should either be cut or avoided completely. Also, keep an eye out to make sure older kids don’t give these foods to their younger siblings or cousins.
2. If it has wheels, there needs to be a helmet.
Whether it’s a quick ride in the driveway or an hour-long road excursion, it is essential for safety that children wear helmets on bikes, scooters, skateboards or any other form of transportation with wheels. Bike helmets reduce head injuries by 85 percent, brain injury by 88 percent. You’re not being a nag or overprotective if you force your kids to wear a helmet. You’re potentially saving their lives. The fit is also crucial, so make sure to follow these steps when sizing your child’s helmet.
3. Use an effective insect repellent.
Insect-borne diseases in the United States have tripled since 2004 according to the CDC. The most common ones include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, West Nile, dengue, and Zika, which are all transmitted by either ticks and mosquitoes.
In a place like Richmond, mosquitos and ticks are unavoidable, which is why it’s essential for safety to use effective insect-repellent. All-natural repellents are fine to try, but if bugs are still biting your kids, switch to either Deet or picaridin-containing repellents recommended by the CDC. According to the AAP, Deet is safe for children 2-months of age and older in concentrations from 10%-30%. As an alternative, picaridin is available and safe in concentrations of 5%-10%.
4. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.
Until you have children, you never realize just how many “kid-friendly” sunscreens exist out there. From organic to mineral-based to hypoallergenic to good old-fashioned, Coppertone, the bottom line is that you need a water-resistant product that offers broad-spectrum coverage for both UVA and UVB rays.
The best sun protection, of course, is to avoid the sun at peak hours (10am-6pm), stay in the shade whenever possible, and keep babies under 6-months-old out of direct sunlight. However, per the AAP, when adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with at least 15 SPF on infants under 6 months to small areas such as their face and the back of the hands.
5. Keep your kids hydrated.
Kids are more prone to dehydration than adults due to the fact that their bodies don’t cool as efficiently. On those brutal dog days of summer, the best way to beat the heat is to keep your kids drinking. Offer water frequently and regularly – before they say they’re thirsty. Avoid drinks with sugar or caffeine since those can exacerbate dehydration. And know the signs of heat-related illnesses and what to do about them.
6. Know the facts about “dry” or “secondary” drowning.
There are few things scarier to parents than worries about drowning. However, the topic of “dry” or “secondary” drowning (i.e. a child developing severe or life-threatening respiratory symptoms seemingly out of the blue days after a near drowning incident) has lately been sensationalized by several media outlets. Many of these reports are unclear or packed with misinformation.
This article from Emergency Medicine News does a great job of laying out the myths and facts concerning so-called “dry drowning” and will likely put many parents’ minds at ease. Of course, the best form of water safety is prevention, including swimming lessons, touch supervision for toddlers, life jacket usage, appropriate pool fencing (four-sided with a locking gate), and continuous supervision while kids are in the water.
7. Know the signs of a concussion.
When school lets out, kids get to let out all their pent-up energy. Often, this will manifest in a lot of tackling, roughhousing, and general mischief…and generally harmless fun. However, accidents happen, which is why head injuries are a growing cause of pediatric ER visits. It’s important that parents recognize the signs and symptoms of concussions and seek immediate medical care if one is suspected.
8. Be safe about gun ownership.
Kids tend to have a lot more unsupervised time in the summer, and this can be a dangerous combination when combined with the presence of a firearm. On May 22, two separate toddlers died in Virginia as a result of gun accidents in the home. If you own a gun, you are responsible for ensuring it is stored properly and inaccessible to children. And if you are a parent whose child is going to spend time at someone else’s house, you have every right to inquire about the presence of firearms, and also every right to politely suggest a play date at your house instead.
9. Keep a well-stocked first aid kit with you.
No matter how vigilante or prepared you are, accidents happen. Stay prepared with a well-stocked first-aid kit in your car or diaper bag. Essential items to include per the AAP: a water bottle, a sports drink, numbing spray, Epi-Pens or any other prescription medications, Bendaryl, ibuprofen and acetaminophen (only given to children as directed by their pediatrician), sunblock, bug spray, hydrocortisone cream, ACE bandage, alcohol wipes, a flashlight, and tweezers.
The good news is that most kids make it through summer unscathed, and serious injuries or illnesses are rare. However, as always, the best way to ensure your kids’ safety (and your peace of mind) is to stay informed, stay attentive, and listen to the advice of your pediatrician. After all, summertime is a time for parents to relax, too. And once your kids are safe, it’s ok for the grownups to have a little fun!