Employee & Community Health

4 tips for a super and safe summer

6/26/2017 by Dr. Janna Gewirtz O'Brien

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School's out and a fun-filled summer beckons. After being cooped up since fall, it's a wonderful time for kids to explore the great outdoors, run, stretch and just be kids. As they head to the pool, playground or backyard, take a few precautions to make sure their summer is super from beginning to end. 

Swim safely

Sadly, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one through four. Even children who are strong swimmers are at risk, so it’s important to watch all kids. For a safe summer around water:

  • Supervise children closely. No child should be left alone by any body of water, even for a brief time. This includes pools, lakes, creeks, inflatable or plastic play pools, bathtubs, hot tubs and even a bucket of water.
  • Practice “touch supervision” with children under five. This means an adult (one who knows how to swim) is within arm’s length of the child.
  • Make sure kids learn to swim - and use the right gear. Sign them up for lessons or teach them yourself, but make sure children know how to keep their head above water and the basic strokes. They should be comfortable in both shallow and deep water. They should wear a properly fitting Coast-Guard approved life vest. Arm floaties and inflatable toys are not a substitute and tend to give kids and families a false sense of security.
  • Fence the pool. In-ground and above-ground pools should be surrounded on all sides by a fence that is at least four-feet high.
  • Swim with a buddy. No one should swim alone, so make sure your child has a buddy in the water with them.
  • Buckle up in the boat. Everyone on a boat, canoe, kayak, personal watercraft, etc., should buckle on a Coast-Guard approved life vest.
  • Curb the alcohol/drug use while near or on the water. The risk of drowning or injury significantly increases when drugs or alcohol are involved.

Beat the heat

Basking in the sun and heat are one of the joys of summer, but also one of the dangers. To beat the heat:

  • Sun. For babies and young children, the best protection is shade.
    • Children under six months should be kept out of the sun. Keep small babies covered.
    • Protect everyone with hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. Sunscreen should be at least 30 SPF. Apply it 15 minutes before going outside and then every two hours or after sweating or swimming. Be sure to cover tips of the ears and back of the neck.
  • Heat. Dress kids in loose, comfortable clothing.
    • Keep them hydrated with plenty of water – not sodas or juice.
    • Enjoy the outdoors during the cooler morning and evening hours. During the day, take breaks in the shade or air conditioning. If children appear tired and flushed, they’re at the risk of overheating. Take a break from the heat and drink water.
    • NEVER leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.

Safe cycling

Wheels add to summer fun. Kids on bikes, skateboards, scooters and inline skates should:

  • Learn how to ride in a safe space such as a driveway or empty parking lot.
  • Wear well-fitted, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)-approved helmets and other protective gear. And fasten the straps!
  • Be bright and use lights at dusk. Bicycles should be fitted with lights and reflectors, and kids should wear reflectors on their clothing and helmets.
  • Parents should set a good example by always wearing a helmet, too. And closely supervise their kids on wheels.

Fight bites

Biting insects are as much a part of our summers as long, lazy days. Ticks can transmit Lyme and other diseases, while mosquitoes are carriers of several diseases including West Nile and Zika. To fight bites during summer fun:

  • Cover up. In tick or mosquito-infested areas, wear long sleeves and tuck long pants into your socks. Avoid going out at prime mosquito time, usually beginning at dusk.
  • Apply repellent. For children older than two months, use DEET to prevent tick and mosquito bites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends repellents containing 10-30% DEET; 10% DEET protects for about two hours, 30% DEET for about five.
  • Check for ticks. As soon as you or your kids come inside, remove all clothes and set aside. Take a bath or shower, then check the entire body - head to toe - for ticks, including under arms, belly button, behind knees and between legs. A mirror helps when doing a self-check. Tumble dry clothes on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. Find a tick? The CDC recommends this method for removing it.
  • Wear repellent-infused clothing. Avid outdoor families may want to invest in pre-treated boots, socks, tents and clothes that have been infused with the repellent permetheron.

Despite some specific risks, summer is still a time for kids and families to play in the great outdoors. Enjoy!

Dr. Janna Gewirtz O’Brien is a pediatrician with Employee and Community Health’s Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She has a strong interest in adolescent health and community advocacy and serves on the board of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She also volunteers and serves on the board of Rochester Students’ Health Services, the non-profit organization that runs the Rochester Alternative Learning Center Health Clinic.