How do I keep track of my kids when they’re playing outside?
This is a tough question to answer. You can’t (and shouldn’t) hover over your children every minute of every day. But you do need to know where they are and what they’re doing.
Start by talking to your children about unsafe places to play. That could be your wasp-infested shed, the street, the park on the other side of town, the neighbor’s heap of scrap metal—anything you can think of. You can add more locations to the list as they come up, because kids tend to naturally find fun but unsafe play places.
When your kids are out with friends, set a standard that they must always tell you where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. When changing locations or activities, they need to contact you.
You may also want to consider getting limited-use phones for children who aren’t ready for fully functioning ones. These phones have preset contacts so your kids contact only the approved numbers.
How do I keep my kids safe on hot days?
The sun is fickle. It warms kids up, but it can also burn them, dehydrate them, and give them heat exhaustion or heat stroke. In fact, kids are more likely to get heat exhaustion or heat stroke than adults are.17 We suggest that kids apply sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and not sit in parked cars on hot days.
Babies under six months old should wear hats and other sun-protective clothing, but beyond that, kids should always wear sunscreen when playing outside in summer.18 Overcast skies and shade may not protect them from sunburns. It’s never too early to start preventing skin cancer.
On hot days, kids should drink water frequently. Dr. Joe Congeni of Akron’s Children Hospital suggests keeping water within kids’ lines of sight; they’ll be more likely to remember to drink if they see water.19
According to Dr. Congeni, “If a child is participating in strenuous, physical activity for more than an hour, he’s starting to lose electrolytes, too, so using rehydrating sports drinks like Gatorade that contain electrolytes (sodium, potassium and calcium) is OK. Energy drinks aren’t OK.” Neither, he says, is soda, tea, or coffee. The caffeine makes children urinate, which offloads all the liquid they just drank.
Finally, when it comes to leaving kids alone in the car during the summer: don’t. Every year, an average of 38 children die of heat after being left alone in a parked car.20 Even if you think you’ll be gone for just a few minutes, don’t risk it. Bring your kids inside with you.
How can I prevent bicycle-related injuries?
The first rule of bike safety is to wear a helmet, even on a short ride around the block. Accidents can happen anywhere, and it’s best to be prepared. Using other safety equipment, like wrist, elbow, and knee guards, is also a good way to prevent bike injury.
When you can, keep young kids on the sidewalk so they’re not riding in the road. Once you think they’re ready to ride in the road, remind them to ride in the same direction as traffic. And always have kids wear bright colors and use bicycle lights, even during the day.21 Increased visibility is never a bad idea.
How can I prevent and treat other sports-related injuries?
With kids going away to soccer camp and taking summer rec classes, parents should stay on their toes. About one-third of childhood injuries in the US are sports related.22
The most common sports injuries are sprains and strains, which can generally be treated by rest, ice packs, and elevation of the injured body part. You probably won’t need to go to a hospital for a sprain or strain, but if the injury doesn’t get better after several days of treatment, take your child to their pediatrician. Something more severe may be going on.
The most dangerous sports injuries are head injuries. About a fifth of traumatic injuries in American kids happen when they’re playing sports. And, although deaths from sports injuries are uncommon, they usually result from brain injuries. So if your child gets a head injury on the field, speak with a physician right away—even if that means going to the emergency room. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
How can I prevent and treat insect bites?
Insect bites aren’t just itchy and uncomfortable; they can also spread disease. Protect your kids by spraying them with repellent at night and in the woods and mountains.
Your garden-variety mosquitoes can be deterred with repellents alone, but be cautious. You don’t want to use a concentration higher than 30% of DEET on kids.23 There are also some alternatives to DEET, like KBR 3023 (picaridin) or PMD (oil of lemon eucalyptus). Avoid using those on kids below age three, and don’t use any repellents on babies under two months.24
Tick prevention is a little more involved. In addition to putting repellent on your kids and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts and pants while hiking or camping, you should check them for ticks afterward. Remove any ticks with tweezers, and bathe the kids just to be safe. If a child develops a rash or a fever after being bitten by a tick, these are symptoms of tick-borne disease. They’ll need medical attention.