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Harvard Commentaries
Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Give Your Kids a Safe Summer

July 10, 2014

By Henry H. Bernstein D.O.

Harvard Medical School

Health Insight
Health Insight Summer Holidays
Give Your Kids a Safe Summer
Give Your Kids a Safe Summer
Summer brings warm, longer days and plenty of time outdoors. To help keep your children safe this summer, follow these tips, adapted from recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Harvard Medical School Commentary

July 10, 2014

Although June 20 or 21 marks its official first day, summer traditionally starts for families as soon as school ends. Summer brings warm, longer days and plenty of time outdoors. To help keep your children safe this summer, follow these tips, adapted from recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sun Safety

  • For babies under 6 months:
    • Keep babies in the shade and out of direct sunlight at all times.
    • Dress them in wide-brimmed hats and lightweight clothes that cover the arms and legs.
    • When adequate clothing and shade aren't available, apply small amounts of sunscreen to exposed skin, such as the face and back of the hands.
  • For older children:
    • Cover up! This is the best defense against the sun! Whenever possible, wear a hat with a wide brim or forward-facing bill, sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of ultraviolet rays, and tightly woven cotton clothing.
    • Stay in the shade as much as possible and avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (when the sun's rays are strongest).
    • Always use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater.
    • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours while outside, particularly after swimming or sweating.

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Heat Safety

  • Whenever air temperature, humidity (amount of moisture in the air), and sun intensity are high, children shouldn't exercise as intensely. They also need to rest more often during any outdoor activities.
  • At the beginning of the summer, when starting a strenuous exercise program, or after traveling to a warmer climate, exercise should start off easy and then increase gradually (over 10 to 14 days), as your child gets used to the heat.
  • Make sure your child is always well hydrated, especially when exercising. As a rule, for every 20 minutes of physical activity, a child weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms) should drink 5 ounces (a bit more than half a glass) of cool water; and an adolescent weighing 132 pounds (60 kilograms) should drink 9 ounces (a tall glass). Sports drinks that have salt in them aren't necessary, but may be used if strenuous exercise is expected to last longer than one hour.
  • Clothing should be lightweight, light-colored, absorbent and limited to one layer to help with evaporation of sweat. Change from sweaty garments to dry ones periodically.

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Water Safety

  • Never leave children alone in or near a pool or any other body of water, even for a moment.
  • Whenever infants or toddlers are in or near the water, an adult should be within arm's length at all times.
  • Adults should be trained in life-saving techniques and CPR. Always have rescue equipment and a portable phone near the pool.
  • Pools should be surrounded on all sides with a sturdy fence that is at least four feet high. Make sure gates are self-closing and self-latching, with latches at a height children can't reach.
  • Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as "floaties." They are not a substitute for approved life vests and can give a false sense of security.
  • Most children are not developmentally ready for swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday. Programs for younger children don't make them less likely to drown.
  • If swimming at the beach, it's particularly important to keep a close eye on your child.
    • Waves and ocean currents can be dangerous. Only older children who can swim well should go into the ocean water; life jackets should be used for all children who can't swim or feel less comfortable with the waves.
    • Swim shoes protect feet from sharp stones or seashells.
    • Don't swim near people fishing or jet skiing, or near boats, which can trap children underneath and pose a drowning risk.
  • Small children shouldn't participate in water sports such as water skiing or jet skiing. Anyone who does needs to wear a life jacket.

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Boat Safety

  • Children should wear life jackets on boats at all times. Adults should always be good role models for their kids by wearing their own life jackets, too.
  • Make sure the life jacket is the right size and not loose for your child. It should always be worn as instructed with all straps belted.
  • Inflatable swimming aids such as "floaties," toys, rafts and air mattresses should never be used instead of real life vests or life preservers.
  • Don't let children play on or near a boat without adult supervision, even if the boat is docked.

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Bug Safety

  • Stay indoors at peak biting times (early morning and dusk).
  • Avoid using perfumes or scented soaps and lotions on your child.
  • Avoid places where insects gather (standing water, flower gardens and uncovered foods).
  • When necessary, children older than 2 months may use insect repellants that contain DEET. Products should contain no more than 30% DEET because this chemical, which is absorbed through the skin, can cause harm. Bathe at the end of each day that you use insect repellants.
  • To remove a visible stinger from skin, gently scrape it off horizontally with your fingernail or a credit card.
  • Bug nets can help protect infants and small children riding in strollers.
  • Take steps to avoid ticks, which carry Lyme disease:
    • If you live in an area known to have ticks, or if you are hiking in the woods or among tall grasses, check for ticks daily by examining the skin before coming indoors.
    • Wear long pants tucked into socks and use bug repellants, which can help prevent tick bites and tick-borne illnesses.
    • Remove ticks with a pair of tweezers by gently pulling the tick straight away from the skin.

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Lawn Mower Safety

  • Children should never ride as passengers on ride-on mowers.
  • Children younger than age 16 shouldn't use ride-on mowers; children younger than age 12 shouldn't use walk-behind mowers.
  • Make sure children are indoors or at a safe distance away from any area that is being mowed.
  • Try to use a mower with a control that stops the mower from moving forward if the handle is let go.
  • Prevent injuries from flying objects by picking up debris before mowing and by using a collection bag for grass clippings. Anyone who uses a mower should wear sturdy shoes (not sandals or sneakers) and hearing and eye protection.
  • Don't pull the mower backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. If you do, always look carefully for children behind you.
  • Turn off the mower and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the chute, or crossing gravel paths, mulched beds, roads or other areas.

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Playground Safety

  • Equipment that's purchased for your own yard should be installed on a shock-absorbing surface such as mulch, shredded rubber, or wood chips to protect children if they fall. Remove any large rocks that are in the area, which can cause tripping other injuries.
  • Inspect all equipment for sharp edges, bolts, or metal pieces that could cause injury. Be sure that there are no areas where you child's fingers or toes could get pinched and no part of the equipment should be removeable.
  • Seats on swing sets should be made of soft material such as rubber.
  • Don't tie leashes, ropes — including jump ropes or any cords — onto or near the equipment. These items can cause choking or tripping hazards.
  • Feel the temperature of metal surfaces and slides that could burn your child.
  • Home trampolines can be very dangerous and aren't recommended for children. They can cause fall injuries including broken bones and head injuries.
  • Children should be supervised by an adult at all times when playing on equipment.

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Bicycle Safety

  • Children should not be encouraged to ride a 2-wheeled bicycle until they are ready — usually at about age 5 or 6. This is an individual decision, however, and you should consider the child's coordination and desire to learn to ride. Choose bicycles with foot brakes until they are coordinated enough to use hand brakes.
  • Take your child with you when you shop for the bike, so that he or she can try it out. The value of a properly fitting bike far outweighs the value of surprising your child with a new bike.
  • Let your child try out a new bicycle before you purchase it. This allows you to be sure that the bike is the right size.
  • Helmets should be mandatory! Your child has to wear a helmet every time that he or she gets onto a bicycle, no matter how short the ride is! Many accidents happen in driveways, on sidewalks and on bike paths. Be a good example for your child, and protect yourself with a helmet, too.
  • Be sure that your child's helmet has a label or sticker that says the helmet meets the CPSC safety standard.
  • Be sure that helmets are the proper size, and are put on properly. A helmet should be worn so that it is level on the head. The strap should be securely fastened, and you should not be able to move the helmet in any direction. If needed, the helmet's sizing pads can help improve the fit.

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Skateboard and Scooter Safety

  • Skateboards should never be ridden on the street or anywhere near parked or moving cars.
  • Safety gear is particularly important when riding skateboards. Helmets, properly fitted and secured shoes, and other safety gear should always be worn.
  • If your town has a skateboard park, this is usually a safer place to ride than alternatives. Do not allow your child to construct ramps or other riding surfaces at home that can be very dangerous.

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Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston. 

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