7 expert-approved ways to keep your kids safe this summer
Protect them from common dangers
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The lazy, and sometimes crazy, days of summer are here! It’s time to power down the iPads, blow up the kiddie pool, and hop on the bikes. Summer is a time to have fun—and where there’s fun there are often accidents. Here are frequent seasonal mishaps, how to prevent them, and what to do should you face them.
The CDC reports that of children aged 1 to 4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, one-third were from drowning. That’s a scary statistic and enough to bring any parent to attention. Kristi Ladowski, Injury Prevention & Outreach Coordinator at Stony Brook Medicine Trauma Center says that most water-related injuries she sees at her ER are when adults were around but were either distracted or thought someone else was watching the child. “Real drowning isn’t like what you see in movies. It is silent and something that can be frequently missed,” she says. “You’re not going to hear a child go under water; you need to be watching them.”
She recommends that adults keep very small children within arms reach. For young and older children, there should always be a designated “watcher” around any body of water that kids might be playing near. Watchers should take short shifts of 15 minutes; during that time they should turn off their cell phones, step away from conversations, and they should be kept free of distractions. “Kids can go underwater in a minute. Distraction is the greatest danger when it comes to watching kids around a pool,” she says. When you’re away from the pool she recommends draining kiddie pools at night and installing self-locking gates for larger pools.
It is also recommended that kids learn to swim from a certified instructor and that all adults should take a summer CPR course. “Those seconds really matter in a drowning incident. To keep oxygen flowing to the brain, having some knowledge of what to do can make all the difference,” she says.
Kate White, owner of Lifetime Swimmers, cautions against using puddle jumpers and arm floaties on children age three and older. She says it can give both children and parents a false sense of security. Parents tend to be more relaxed and less vigilant when watching children, and kids develop a sense of over-confidence and independence around water before it is safe to do so. “We all hear stories about how a little swimmer takes their jumper off one minute and a few minutes later they forget they don’t have on a floatie and run into the pool,” says White. Paul Zografakis, founder of PaulSwimz agrees: "Water wings reinforce an upright position, which is a sinking position." He suggests playing with children on the steps, or wherever everyone is comfortable, and engaging in the swim experience with your child starting from a young age. Focus on pool safety in children as young as age three, where they can learn how to get themselves to the edge of the pool if they accidentally fall in, and always hire a professional for swim parties.
Ladowski says that dry drowning isn’t all that it’s perceived to be in the media, but it’s still something to keep an eye out for if your child has unexpectedly fallen underwater. She says that if you pull your child out of the water and they are coughing and sputtering and you see it getting worse, bring them to the ER immediately. “If you see any sort of struggle after a water incident, it’s best to bring them in and have them looked at,” she says.
Bike and Scooter Safety
When it comes to bikes, scooters, and skateboards there is no way around it: Your child should be wearing a helmet at all times. Accidents happen, but it’s been estimated that the simple act of wearing a helmet could prevent 75 percent of fatal head injuries and 85 percent of non-fatal traumatic brain injuries.
To make sure a helmet fits properly, buy a model that fits right NOW—never buy a helmet for your child to grow into. To ensure a good fit, check that the helmet doesn’t wiggle when worn and use the “two finger rule”: A helmet should have no more than two fingers space between the eyebrows and the helmet and the strap should be snug enough that no more than one or two fingers fit under it.
Ladowski recommends you make the time to talk with kids about the rules of the road and how to follow them: They should make eye contact with motorists, and when they are riding a bike or scooter they must stop at stop signs, bike with traffic, and get off their bike or scooter to cross the street. She also recommends that children—and adults—wear bright reflective clothing and that bikes have proper lighting in both the front and the back of your child’s bike and on your child’s arm when they are riding their scooter.
Staying hydrated may seem like a no-brainer but dehydration can be serious and can happen more rapidly than you might expect. You can help stave off dehydration by taking water breaks at least every hour (or more if kids are exerting themselves or it’s particularly hot outside), and by packing snacks that are high in water content—like melons, blueberries, and stone fruits like peaches, plums, and nectarines. No one likes sun-warmed water, so make sure you always have the best well-insulated water bottle with you, to encourage frequent, refreshing sips.
If your little one is acting irritable or lethargic, dehydration may be the culprit. Water is the best defense against dehydration and beats out sugary and carbonated drinks in terms of effectiveness. If your child is showing signs that dehydration has already started, get them back on track by giving them small doses of watered-down drinks with electrolytes or popsicles to ease them into rehydration. If they start vomiting or having diarrhea they may have more advanced dehydration; it’s best to call the pediatrician.
Car-related heatstroke prevention is something to remember year-round, but it’s extra important when the weather heats up. On a 70-degree day, a car’s interior heats up to 104 degrees in the first 30 minutes. Cracking the windows does not keep the car cooler and it will not slow the heating; no matter what precautions you think you’ve taken, a car will act as a convection oven within minutes of turning off the air conditioning.
Safe Kids USA says you can prevent heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car—not even for a minute—and by teaching children to honk the horn to get attention should they ever find themselves trapped in a car. Teach kids to never play or hide in a car—or any enclosed places—at any time. Make sure to always keep your car locked to deter curious kids from accidentally sneaking in and getting trapped, and ask neighbors and visitors to do the same.
A sunburn can happen within 15 minutes of being in the sun, so be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of an SPF of 15 or higher at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and to reapply throughout the day. Nancy Akerman, a physical scientist in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation says that when you’re approaching sun protection to remember the words slip, slop, slap, and wrap. Slip on a sun-protective clothing like a rash guard or a long-sleeved shirt, slop on some broad spectrum sunscreen, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, and grab some wrap around style sunglasses.
While it’s well-known by now that we should protect our skin from sun damage, studies have shown that overexposure to UV rays can also cause cataracts and other eye damage. Broad spectrum sunglasses are just as important as broad spectrum sunscreen. Make sure to skip the fashion glasses for your little ones and look for wrap around sunglasses that have a label that says they protect against UV and UVB rays.
Confused about how much sun protection you need depending on where you go? There’s an app for that! The EPA has a free smartphone app that allows you to check the UV Index at whatever location you plan to be at and it will give you customized tips on how to plan and protect yourself while you’re getting in your summer fun.
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Fight the bites! Summertime is all about being outside—don’t let the pesky threat of mosquitos and ticks ruin your fun. Insect and tick bites can be annoying, painful, and—with the threat of Lyme disease and Zika—some can be downright dangerous.
Bug repellent containing between 10 to 30 percent of the active ingredient DEET is safe for kids over two months old and is the best defense against disease carrying mosquitoes and ticks. Bug repellant can be applied liberally to clothing, but should be applied sparingly to skin. Keep the repellant away from little mouths and eyes, and avoid applying it to their hands—which could quickly find their way into their mouths. Never use a sunscreen/bug repellent combo; sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, while bug repellant should only be applied once per day on children.
Mosquito bites can be treated with a simple topical antihistamine and a cold compress. A tick bite, however, can be a bit tougher to deal with. Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before Lyme disease can be contracted. It’s recommended that you check your children’s skin each night to ensure that they are tick-free after a day of play. If you find a tick on your child, use fine-tipped tweezers to gently pull it out, being sure to remove the head. If the head remains under the skin or you suspect it has been embedded for 24 hours or more, it’s best to contact your pediatrician.
Bees, Wasps, and Yellow Jackets
The sting of bees, wasps, and yellow jackets is usually just a painful annoyance, but for children who are allergic to them their venom can be deadly. According to Jay D’Orso, MD, Pediatrics and Internal Medicine, Western Connecticut Medical Group Ridgefield Primary Care, allergic reactions to stings frequently don't happen when a child is stung for the first time but can show up the second, third, or even fourth time a child is stung. It’s important to always keep an eye on your child when they are stung, and to remove the stinger as soon as possible--to minimize the venom entering your child’s bloodstream.
If a bee does land on your child, teach them to be calm and that the bee is just trying to figure out if they are a flower. If a bee does sting there are steps you can take to make things better faster: To remove the stinger, gently brush it out of the skin with the edge of a credit card, apply a cold compress, and if the reaction is minor an antihistamine and ibuprofen should help minimize the reaction and ease the pain.
If you notice your child is showing troublesome signs like wheezing, shortness of breath, a swollen tongue, hives, dizziness, stomach cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea, it’s a sign of severe allergy. You should call 911 and go immediately to the emergency room. Other times to be concerned are if the bee sting occurs in the mouth or in the eye. Even if your child has never shown any signs of a bee allergy in the past, a mouth sting can cause swelling and airway obstruction. A sting in the eye will need to be evaluated by a doctor. D’Orso warns that those with a history of asthma and allergies are at a greater risk of developing an allergy to a bee or wasp sting, but you should always keep an eye on all children following a sting.
Since no topical repellent is effective against bees, wasps, and yellow jackets, prevention is key to avoiding stings. Take care around gardens and orchards. If you must be in an area where bees abound, dress your child in long sleeve shirts and pants and avoid bright clothing, floral patterns, and perfumes of any kind. Since bees are frequently buzzing around flowers that are close to the ground, food that has dropped, or puddles of water, be sure to have your child wear shoes where they can.