School is almost out for summer. Kids are ready to spend their days swimming in the pool, riding bikes, and attending camp. But with more activity, heat, and downtime also comes serious safety concerns.
There are more injuries in the U.S. during the summer months than any other season. Every age group, from toddlers to teens, poses different risks and challenges. However, research shows more than 60 percent of all summer-related injuries occur in children ages 2 to 11. The most common hazards are falls, drowning, pedestrian and bike accidents, and motor vehicle-related injuries.
“Summer break and warmer weather introduce more opportunities for outdoor and water activities,” says Catalina Scarfone, DO, a pediatrician at Summit Health. “A few challenges parents might face are ensuring proper water and outdoor safety, as well as access to childcare or multitasking by working from home, while also allowing kids to have fun and make lasting memories.”
As the sunshine approaches, talk to your kids about how they can be cautious and still have fun. Together, you can make the most of summer vacation by following these important safety tips.
1. Protect Your Skin. Children over six months of age should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside so the skin can properly absorb the cream or spray. Do not forget to reapply about every two hours or after swimming. Remember to protect the lips with a sun balm. Cover up with a hat and wear lightweight clothing whenever possible. Remember that water reflects the sun’s rays so kids can still get burned even when they are in the pool. Do not let cloudy days fool you — sunscreen should be part of your daily routine even when it is overcast.
“Babies under six months should be kept in shaded areas and wear clothing — including a hat — that covers their exposed skin to avoid sunburn,” explains Dr. Scarfone. “Keep in mind that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10am and 4pm when planning activities.”
2. Drink Lots of Water. Kids can become easily dehydrated on a hot summer day when they are running around. Make sure they have a reusable water bottle on hand at all times. According to Dr. Scarfone, children over six months of age can drink about 4 to 8 ounces of water per day while 3-year-olds should have 4 cups a day, and 4 to 8-year-olds need around 5 cups. Anyone age 8 or older should drink 7 to 8 cups a day. Avoid sugary drinks like soda that are less hydrating for children than water.
“Stay hydrated, wear cool clothing, spray yourself with cool mist, or go swimming to help cool down,” she advises. “If you notice symptoms of extreme fatigue, fever, headache, muscle weakness, and nausea or vomiting, move to a cool place immediately. Contact your pediatrician, call 9-1-1, or visit the nearest emergency room as these can be signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”
3. Use Swim Smarts. Swimming is an important life skill that every child should learn. Enroll your child in swim lessons at a young age — it can be a great activity for parents and toddlers. Life jackets should always be worn on boat rides and near bodies of water, says Dr. Scarfone. Make sure the life jacket is approved by the U.S Coast Guard and the appropriate size based on your child’s weight.
“Never leave children unattended around water, even for a moment, and always be within an arm's-reach,” she advises. “At a party, adults can take turns watching the children in the water — 15 minutes at a time — to help minimize distractions.”
Children should also be closely monitored by the lake and ocean. Do not swim in areas that are designated as unsafe or have riptides. Supervise little ones around outdoor toys like a water table or spray mat, as well as in the bathtub.
4. Stay Bite-Free. Pesty insects can take the fun right out of summer. Protect your kids from mosquito bites with an insect repellent that contains DEET. The current American Academy of Pediatrics and Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation for children over two months of age is to use a spray with 10 to 30 percent DEET once a day. Cover up as much as possible if you are hiking or camping in heavily wooded areas. Remove any standing water from your backyard, which is a breeding ground for bugs.
Remember to thoroughly check the body from head to toe for ticks at the end of each day. Do not forget the scalp, behind the ears, and private areas where critters like to hide. Call your pediatrician if your child develops any inflamed bug bites or a rash that is shaped like a bull’s-eye.
5. Wear Your Helmet. Always protect your head when rollerblading, biking, skateboarding, or scootering — no matter how short the ride is. Helmets decrease the risk of head injury by 85 percent. Before your kids start pedaling around in the summer, check that their helmet meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), is the right size, and fits snuggly. Have them wear bright clothing such as a reflective jacket, if they are riding at dusk or in the dark.
6. Be Careful on the Playground and Trampolines. Check for any loose ropes or cords and test the temperature of metal seats or slides before you allow the kids to play, says Dr. Scarfone. Never leave children unattended. Avoid the structures when they are wet. Wear sneakers instead of flip-flops or sandals. Do not jump off the swings and hold on with both hands.
“Trampolines can cause a variety of injuries in kids and should be avoided when possible. Safety nets do not always function properly,” she adds. “If a child uses a trampoline, they should have adult supervision and only go on one at a time.”
7. Supervise Screens. With extra downtime and unexpected storms, it is important to make a screen time plan that works for your family at the beginning of the season.
“Parental controls and time restrictions can be set up on most devices,” says Dr. Scarfone. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to about one hour a day. Encourage children to spend more time reading and playing outside.”
Screen-free time can be fun and beneficial for the entire family. Alternative ways to spend time together include summer reading programs at local libraries, puzzles, playing cards, or board games.
8. Drive Safely. Car accidents are more common in the summer months. There are more vehicles, teen drivers, and construction sites on the road. If you are going on a trip, remember to stay alert at the wheel. Make sure everyone wears their seatbelt and is in the right size car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 13 or under continue to sit in the back seat.
“Never leave a child alone in a car — they can overheat quickly even with the windows down,” explains Dr. Scarfone. “When you leave the car parked in the sun, use windshield and window sunshades as well as car seat covers to minimize heat transfer when you return.”
9. Limit Fire Hazards. Keep a watchful eye on toddlers, tweens, and everyone in between at outdoor cookouts. Fire pits and grills should always be supervised by an adult and kept at least 10 feet away from your home. Never leave them unattended. Teach your children to stay away from open flames and to be careful around hot surfaces like the stones around the fire pit.
“Fireworks and sparklers, while beautiful to look at, can be very dangerous up close and can cause severe burns and injury. Families should only attend firework displays performed by professionals,” advises Dr. Scarfone.
10. Suit up for Sports. Sports provide excellent opportunities for team building and exercise. “Make sure to wear proper protective gear such as helmets and padding as it applies to each individual sport,” says Dr. Scarfone. “If there is an injury to the head or eye, please discontinue playing and get evaluated by a medical professional. Also remember insect repellent and sunscreen.”
11. Stop the Spread of Germs. The COVID-19 virus is still spreading. Remind your children to wash their hands frequently and use sanitizer when they are at day camp or the public pool. Do not share food or drinks with other children. Try to wear masks if you are indoors and stay more than three feet apart, when possible, advises Dr. Scarfone. Any kids who are experiencing fever or severe cold symptoms should stay home.
12. Sleep Tight. Everyone’s schedule becomes a little lax in the summertime. School-aged children need about 8 to 12 hours of sleep to stay healthy both physically and emotionally. When kids do not get enough sleep, they are more likely to trip and fall or make poor decisions. It is fine to push bedtime back in the summer if your children can get a few extra hours of sleep in the morning. Have fun and be spontaneous, but also try to keep their schedules somewhat consistent — kids thrive on routine.
13. Remember Stranger Danger. Kids who are spending more time outside and in public places are more likely to run into adults they do not know. Teach them not to engage with strangers. “If someone they do not know tries to approach them, they should immediately find and alert their parents,” says Dr. Scarfone.
14. Keep Tabs on Food Allergies. If your child has food allergies, make sure they understand what ingredients they need to avoid. Let the adult in charge know about any allergy before going to a friend’s house or party and ask before trying homemade food or treats. “Always bring an EpiPen in case an anaphylactic reaction occurs,” advises Dr. Scarfone.
15. Look Out for Emotional Health. Summer can be a difficult time. Some kids struggle with less structure or may experience bullying at summer camps or on social media. “Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your children and let them feel comfortable opening up to you about any problems they may be facing,” says Dr. Scarfone. “Watch for signs like increased isolation, changes in appetite, and not showing interest in things they used to enjoy.”