Employee & Community Health

4 tips for a super and safe summer

7/19/2018 by Dr. Janna Gewirtz O'Brien

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After a long, snowy winter, a fun-filled summer beckons! Summer is  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 also 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. 
  • Enlist a "watcher". When tubing or water skiing, enlist one person in the boat to be the watcher who keeps an eye on whoever is being towed. This lets the driver focus on other boat traffic or hazards. 
  • 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. This includes kids being pulled in bike trailers or riding tandem. And fasten the chin 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 disease, 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) recommend 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 pretreat boots, socks, tents and clothes with the repellent permethrin. Spray them 24 to 48 hours before use so they dry thoroughly. As with all pesticides, follow the label instructions. You can also buy pretreated items. 
  • Learn more. The CDC provides a wealth of information on preventing insect bites. 

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 was a pediatrician with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) until July 1.