How to stay safe while having a blast.
Summer is the season of fun for kids. They play outside all day and, long after the sun has set, ask for “just five more minutes.” They learn new skills, such as riding a bike or swimming underwater, and develop new friendships. It’s all fun and games, until someone gets hurt. Accidental injury and death are the number-one threat for kids in the first two decades of life.
Fortunately, by following basic safety rules, you can prevent many injuries and your kids can enjoy all of their favorite summertime activities.
In school, children learn the four Greek elements that make up the universe: earth, water, fire and air. This system has been used to explain life and survival in the natural world for thousands of years. Today, you can use these components as you teach your kids about staying safe in the world around them.
Home, school and vacation environments present many potential hazards for kids. Fun activities such as bike riding, roller blading and bouncing on the trampoline can lead to falls and serious injury, for example. Tips to help ensure the safety of your children whether at home, at play or on the go follow.
* Buckle up. Using seat belts is second nature to kids today, but it may not always come naturally to parents. Since you are your children’s greatest role model, you should always buckle up.
You also must use child safety seats. Place infants in a rear-facing child safety seat in the back seat of your car. Never turn a child forward-facing if she is younger than one year and weighs less than 20 pounds. Rear-facing is safest and preferred, as long as seat height and weight limits are not exceeded. Once kids outgrow their rear-facing seats, they should ride in forward-facing child-safety seats, in the back seat, until they reach the upper weight or height limit of a five-point harness safety seat. Once kids outgrow their forward-facing seats, they should ride in booster seats, in the back seat, until the vehicle seat belts fit properly. A proper fit is achieved when the lap belt lies across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt rests on the shoulder or collar bone (usually when a child is between 8 and 12 years old, approximately 4’9″ tall and 80 to 100 pounds).
* Protect playtime. Playgrounds are fun, but full of potential accidents, so you should always supervise your kids. Inspect playground equipment to ensure it’s in good working order. Strings on clothing can get caught on playground equipment, so it’s best to remove them. Kids should play on age-appropriate playground equipment. Because they are developmentally different before and after age five, they need different equipment located in separate playground areas for the safety of all.
Safer playground surfaces include hardwood fiber or mulch, pea gravel, sand and rubber mats. Dangerous surfaces include concrete, asphalt, grass, blacktop, packed dirt or rocks.
* Avoid home trampolines. Home trampolines are strongly discouraged, as they are associated with serious injuries, even with adult supervision. If your kids have an overwhelming urge to jump, you can find a gym or other local facility that offers indoor trampolines.
* Ensure bike safety. Kids develop their sense of balance at various ages. Riding a two-wheeled bike before a child is ready can lead to injuries. When your kids are ready for a bike, it must be fitted to their present size, not the size they will grow into next summer. Everyone on every bike must wear a helmet, including parents. Bike accidents happen in the driveway and on the sidewalk, not just on the street. Follow the instructions for the use and proper fit of all helmets. Look for the CPSC sticker on the helmet made especially for bikes.
* Wear protective equipment. Skateboarders and scooter-riders should always wear helmets. Look for the ASTM label that shows the specific activity for which the helmet is made. Use wrist guards, kneepads and elbow pads.
Skateboarding in parks designed for this purpose is much safer than skateboarding through a neighborhood. Kids should never ride skateboards or scooters in or close to traffic. An adult should supervise riders younger than eight years, and riders of any age should never skateboard alone.
A child can drown in as little as one inch of water, and drowning is usually quick and silent. Parents and caregivers need to understand the dangers of water and know the proper steps to take to protect kids whether at the pool or ocean.
* Supervise kids near water. For children younger than five years, remain within arm’s length. Teaching your kids how to swim does not guarantee that they are safe in the water.
* Cover pools and hot tubs when they are not in use. Remove toys from the pool after use so children are not tempted to reach for them.
* Install a fence around all sides of the pool. The fence should be at least four feet high and should completely separate the pool from the house and play area of the yard.
* Teach kids to dodge pool drains. You also should put in anti-entrapment drain covers and a safety vacuum release system to automatically release suction and shut down the pump should anyone become trapped.
* Have rescue equipment ready, such as a shepherd’s hook or life preserver, and a poolside telephone.
* Observe safety rules. Young children, non-swimmers and all passengers on a boat should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vests at all times. Air-filled “swimming aids” are not good substitutes. Keep hands and feet inside the boat and remain seated while the boat is moving. When in the ocean, pay attention to the lifeguard’s warning flags and signs regarding the conditions of the surf and hidden undercurrent that can swiftly sweep beachgoers off their feet.
Sunlight sustains life on earth, but sun exposure during childhood can cause burns in childhood and cancer in adulthood. Burns from open fires, grills and fireworks can be very serious and deadly in children.
* Keep infants in the shade. Infants under six months of age should not be in direct sunlight. Dress your baby in a brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that covers his arms and legs. Discuss sunscreen use for your infant with your health care provider.
* Cover kids up. Be sure older kids wear a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of ultraviolet rays. Clothing with a tight weave is a great protector, in addition to sunscreen on sun-exposed areas.
* Never “overexpose.” Stay out of direct sunlight whenever possible, but especially when the sun is at its most intense, from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Everyone over the age of six months should use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher liberally, and reapply it every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
* Leave fireworks to the pros. Fireworks are not safe for a child of any age to use. Sparklers can reach temperatures exceeding 1,000° F and can cause serious burns that lead to scars and disfigurement. It’s best if your family attends a public fi rework display.
* Grill — don’t burn. Grills can reach temperatures of over 500° F, causing burns from open flames or hot surfaces. Place the grill away from any structures, trees and play areas. Don’t allow kids access to matches and lighter fluid. Never leave the grill unattended when kids are present.
* Prevent heat exhaustion/heat stroke. Teach your children to drink plenty of fluids before and during activity in hot, sunny weather, even if they are not thirsty. Avoid outdoor activity on hot or humid days between the hours of noon and 6 P.M. Kids should rest indoors and drink cool fluids at the first sign of becoming overheated. Signs of heat exhaustion can include: increased thirst, increased sweating, cool and clammy skin, irritability, weakness or fainting, muscle cramps, nausea and/or vomiting and headache. Signs of heat stroke include: loss of consciousness, seizure, rapid breathing, confusion or no sweating. This is a medical emergency, and you should seek emergency medical care.
The warm summer breeze can bring unwanted guests — insects and storms — to the picnic. While most insects are more of a nuisance, some carry diseases that can make children very ill. Sunny skies can sometimes turn dark as severe weather approaches with little warning.
* Clean up the yard. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so it’s best to clear your backyard of buckets, kiddie pools, fountains and old tires left outside after a rain — which all make quite a nice mosquito nursery.
* Dress kids appropriately. Have children wear light-colored clothing with long sleeves and pants when outside at dawn and dusk, the times mosquitoes are the most active.
* Prevent mosquito bites. West Nile is a virus carried by birds and transmitted to people via a mosquito that bites the infected bird, then the human. West Nile virus usually causes mild flulike symptoms, but it can lead to serious complications such as encephalitis and death. As mosquito populations grow, so does the number of West Nile virus cases. Decreasing your exposure to prevent mosquito bites is the best way to avoid West Nile virus.
* Use insect repellent with 10- to 30-percent DEET on children older than two months of age. Effectiveness is the same for DEET, despite the percentage of active ingredient. The differences lie in the length of time it provides protection, anywhere from two to five hours. Select the product with the lowest concentration needed for the length of exposure time. Read the label since all products vary in concentration. DEET is also protection against tick bites that can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Check your kids for ticks, and have them wash off repellents when they return indoors. Avoid combination sunscreen and insect repellent products, as sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and insect repellent should not be reapplied.
* Don’t attract stingers. Insects such as bees, wasps and hornets can cause very painful stings and allergic reactions. Call your health care provider right away if your child has an allergic reaction to a sting. To decrease the chances of attracting stinging insects, avoid using scented soap, perfume or hairspray on your kids. Bees are drawn to brightly colored or floral- printed clothing as well. If a bee stings your child, you can remove the stinger by scraping it back out with a credit card or your fingernail.
* Seek shelter in a storm. If you’re outside and cannot go indoors, your car is the safest spot.
Summer can be the best time of year. Keeping your kids safe during all their activities is a top priority. Following some commonsense rules ensures that everyone will enjoy the earth, water, fire and whatever the wind may bring. Despite the best intentions, accidents still happen, but prevention is key to reducing this likelihood and the severity of injury. Stay safe!
Kathleen Kent, DNP, RN, CPNP, is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Nursing in the Pediatric & Family Nurse Practitioner Program and also works as a certified PNP for Northpoint Pediatrics, Indianapolis, IN.