We all know that keeping your kids safe is a full-time job. Whether your family is going on a well-deserved vacation, basking in the sun poolside or hiking in the woods, outdoor safety is of utmost importance. Danger lurks around every corner, from the playlet at the local park to the trampoline in your neighbor’s yard. And without proper awareness of potential dangers and adequate preparation, accidents and injuries can wreak havoc on your family. From sunscreen to swim lessons, helmets to life jackets, preparation is key to keeping your loved ones safe. And while accidents are bound to happen, you can take precautions to help prevent major injuries.
Beyond the Sea
Swimming is one of the most popular summer activities. It’s a great way to cool off on a hot day and a good activity to help burn off some pent-up energy. Many neighborhoods have a community pool. As popular as swimming is, it should come as no surprise that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks drowning fifth overall among leading causes of unintentional death. Of those drowning deaths, 1 in 5 are kids under the age of 14.
If your kids are around pools or bodies of water even occasionally, prepare them by enrolling them in swim lessons. The lessons are a great way to burn off extra energy, and provide children with a skill they can use will into their adult life. And while swim lessons are an absolutely must, they are not a substitute for close supervision. Even if the pool you attend is staffed with lifeguards, keep in mind that they are tasked with watching hundreds of people in the water throughout the day. Drownings are often quick and quiet and difficult to spot even by the trained eye.
You should always supervise your children. Designate a responsible adult to watch young kids at all times — that includes in the bathtub at home, at the kiddie pool in the driveway and at the community pool down the street. Remember, it only takes a few inches of standing water to cause a drowning. If you have a swimming pool, make sure to have all four sides of the pool protected with locked fencing. Coat the pool deck with a nonslip surface and enforce strict “no running or diving” rules for anyone using the facilities. Keep the pool deck clear of toys, towels, floats and any other objects that may pose a tripping hazard or tempt little ones into the area unsupervised.
If your summer vacation plans involve natural water settings such as lakes and rivers, make sure you have the appropriate life jackets. Only jackets approved and certified by the U.S. Coast Guard should be worn, fitted appropriately, and kept on at all times around the water, regardless of swimmer ability. A good rule of thumb is having at least one jacket for each swimmer, and an extra one just in case. Weak, tired swimmers or those injured by boats or floating objects in the water may not have the energy to swim or stay afloat long enough to be rescued.
According to the National Safety Council, approximately 74 million Americans engage in recreational boating each year. While most of those experiences are positive memory makers, things can quickly go wrong if the proper precautions are not followed. While waterskiing, tubing and wake-boarding are fun, popular water sports, they can be very dangerous. Make sure the boat driver is licensed and experienced, or take a boat safety course to learn how to enjoy the water safely and responsibly. Plan your day accordingly and only partake in water sports during daylight hours so you have plenty of sunlight for good visibility. Before you give waterskiing a try, go over hand signals with the “spotter” in the boat, someone who is designated as responsible for watching the skier and relaying communications to the boat driver. Above all, leave the alcohol on dry land. Alcohol affects judgement, vision, balance and coordination.
Remember to pack and wear sunscreen at all times, winter or summer, to protect from sunburns. Reapply generously, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Hiking, Skiing & Camping
If your family trades in water skis for snow skis, keep in mind that cold-weather safety is just as important to think about. Notify friends or family where you will be and how long your trip is before going hiking, skiing or camping. Try to limit your outdoor activity to shorter periods that allow for rewarming. Avoid walking on ice, and if you have chores to do, go slowly and take frequent rest breaks. Put on the parka, dress in layers and stay dry.
When it comes to preventing bug bites, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using insect repellents for children that contain no more than 30-percent DEET. Do not apply repellent to children under two months of age, and keep in mind that OLE and PMD-containing products should not be used on kids under three years old. Apply the repellent to clothes and exposed skin only, just enough to cover the skin. Using more does not make it more effective. Once inside, wash off with soap and water and pat dry. You might want to apply a bit of moisturizer after outdoor exposure.
If you are going to an area where tickborne illness is a concern, you can pre-treat clothing and gear with permethrin. Check with your healthcare provider before you travel to see if it would be a good idea for your family. After a nice, long walk with nature, be sure to check clothing for ticks after coming inside. Take a quick shower to wash off any stowaways and use the opportunity to check closely under the arms, behind the ears and around the hairline, in the belly button, behind knees and around the waist. If you do happen to find a tick, remove it as quickly as you can by grabbing it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, and pulling it straight out. If a rash or fever develops in the days after a tick exposure, call your provider for advice and management.
With the potential perils of water and nature, it’s easy to forget that there could be dangers lurking in your own backyard. While most kids find trampolines entertaining and fun, the AAP cautions against home trampoline use, and encourages pediatricians to actively discourage patients from using them. The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System estimated nearly 100,000 injuries in 2014 from trampolines, most from the mat itself and not from falling off. There is no evidence to support that using netting or padding significantly decreases the risk of injury, and, while most injuries range from strains and sprains to contusions, falls can be devastating and usually occur despite close supervision. Bottom line: The risk is simply not worth the short period of entertainment and exercise.
So what’s a kid to do? Sports and recreational activities are important for physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle. According to the CDC, nearly 3 million children aged 0 to 19 are treated in the Emergency Department for sports and recreation-related injuries. Whether playing on a local or community team or around at the park with friends, all sports can present safety challenges. Regardless of the sport, invest in quality protective gear to keep your kids safe. Helmets, mouth guards, wrist guards and kneepads must be in good condition and fit properly. Most importantly, be sure to wear the gear. The best helmet does not work unless it’s on the head. Put an action plan in place to prevent injuries, and be a good role model for your kids. If your children see you wearing a helmet while bike riding, for example, they are more likely to wear their own.
Learn CPR. Check with local resources to find an American Heart Association sponsored class and sign up. Get the kids involved if they are old enough. The life-saving skill set could help someone who needs it.
If there is injury or trauma, try to stay calm. Asses the situation thoroughly and, if needed, call 911 immediately. Deliver CPR as you have been trained to do. If an injured party is breathing and awake, assess the injuries. If the trauma involves the head, neck or spinal cord, keep the victim still and do not attempt to move him unless he is in imminent danger. Keep the airway clear and keep him focused on staying calm and still. Breathe slowly and deeply, talk through what’s happening, and wait patiently for paramedics to arrive.
Your family should be able to relax and enjoy the outdoors with confidence knowing they’re prepared to face the world head-on. It’s time to head out and enjoy all the beauty and serenity that nature has to offer!
Amanda Smith, MSN, APRN-NP, AC-PNP, has been a pediatric nurse for 12 years and an acute care PNP for 5. She has experience in pediatric hematology, oncology, organ transplant, emergency medicine and urgent care.