Summer Safety for You and Your Children


When the last school bell of the school year rings, children race outside and parents reach for the first aid kit. Summer activities often bring scrapes and bruises — or worse. Here are simple things you can do to ensure that your children’s summer fun involves minimal risk.

Head to the Helmet

Accidental falls are the number one cause of childhood injury, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Usually it’s just a scraped leg or arm, but when kids fall off bikes, they can hit their heads. You can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85% by equipping your child with a well-fitting helmet. Any time your child rides her bike, scooter, or roller blades, she should wear a helmet.

Take a close look at last year’s helmet to see if you should get a new one. Helmets break down with age and use. “Pay attention to how many crashes a helmet takes,” says Beth Johns-Thomas, director of summer programs at the Fenn School, Concord, Mass. After a number of small crashes or one large one, replace your child’s helmet with a new one.

Run a Sports Equipment Safety Check

Helmets aren’t the only thing. All sports equipment should be well maintained and the right size for your child. “Kids grow from one year to the next,” says Johns-Thomas. This may sound like a no-brainer but your child’s growth can be hard to keep up with. Run a size check on all of your child’s equipment. Does his bike still fit? Has he outgrown his athletic padding?

If your child is headed to summer camp, or attending day camp in town, check out the camp’s equipment as well. Is the equipment covered in cracks and dents? “It’s perfectly reasonable to call a camp director and ask when the camp’s equipment was last inspected,” says Johns-Thomas.

Prevent Heat Stress and Dehydration

It seems so simple, and it’s so easy to forget. Children need to stay hydrated. Playing in the hot sun without water breaks can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

“We recommend that kids hydrate before any athletic endeavor,” says Wayne Moss, senior director of sports, fitness, and recreation at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Atlanta. Moss advises children to drink 2 to 3 cups of water about 2 hours before a game. The nonprofit group Safe Kids USA suggests 12 ounces half an hour before a game. Even with pre-hydration, children should take a break every 20 minutes or so during the game to drink some water or a sports drink.

Lock Away Chemicals and Medications

When children hang around the house, they have time to get into things. Household products as mundane as laundry detergent or oven cleaner can be poisonous for curious kids at home.

Johns-Thomas recommends locking products that contain dangerous chemicals in a cabinet. “Potential poisons should be kept out of sight and reach from kids,” says Johns-Thomas. Also, lock up medications; curious children are tempted by pill bottles. This might mean a locked cabinet in the house, in the garage, and by the pool if you have one. Never transfer household chemicals into soda bottles or containers that might be mistaken as part of the afternoon snack.

Watch Your Children Around Water

Between ages 1 and 14, drowning is the second leading cause of death. “Parents should make sure their kids get swimming lessons,” says Moss. And when your child is around water, whether it’s at the beach, a pool, lake, or river, make sure an adult who knows how to swim is there to supervise. It’s a good idea to have your child buddy up with a friend while swimming, but a child’s eyes should never replace those of an adult. If you have your own pool, be sure to install a fence with a gate so children can’t wander in unsupervised.

Make Time for Warm-up

Athletic injuries can bring summer fun to a grinding halt. “It’s important for kids to warm up properly and not just jump right into play,” says Moss. A series of warm-ups and gentle stretches can get children’s muscles ready for action. Talk to your young athlete about proper technique, and make sure she pays attention to her coach. For instance, jumping and landing with bent knees can go a long way toward protecting those important joints.

Keep a First Aid Kit on Hand

Moss advises parents to keep a well-stocked first aid kit within easy reach. “You never know what’s going to happen with kids,” he says. If your child goes to camp or plays on a team, talk to the adult in charge. “Make sure the team has a first aid kit and ask who’s the keeper.”

You can purchase a first aid kit at a local drug store and supplement it with things like the phone numbers of your family pediatrician, health insurer, along with a list of any conditions or allergies your children have. If anyone in your family has a condition that could require emergency medication, add the drug to the kit. Be sure to keep the kit well stocked and replace expired prescriptions.

Beware of Bad Bugs

Insects have become more than an inconvenience now that some ticks carry Lyme disease and some mosquitoes carry West Nile virus. If ticks or mosquitoes are part of your landscape, there are several things you can do to protect your kids. Take a look at the woods where your kids play. “Are the woods thick with brush or are they well maintained?” says Johns-Thomas. Make sure you check your child at the end of the day for ticks, and remove them. If you find a tick on your child, and you live where Lyme disease is common, speak to your doctor.


Insect repellents with DEET can keep bugs away but should be used with caution. Look for the concentration of DEET on the label — it should be between 10% and 30%. Lower concentrations work as well as higher concentrations, just not as long. A 10% concentration can repel insects for about 2 hours while a 30% concentration can work for about 5 hours. You should not apply bug spray more than once a day. You can also try products with lemon eucalyptus if you don’t want to expose your child to DEET.

Screen Kids From Sunburn

The sun is at its peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Especially during these hours, children risk getting burned if they spend long periods in the sun. Clothes, shade, and sunscreen are all good ways to protect your child’s skin. Equip your child with a brimmed hat, sunglasses that block ultraviolet rays, and cotton clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Apply sunscreen with 15 SPF or higher, and be sure to reapply every 2 hours. Avoid lotions that combine sunscreen and bug repellant. Sunscreen needs to be applied more often than bug cream.

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