Summertime Safety

Make sure your kids are protected all season long.

Car Safety, Drowning

For many families, the Fourth of July weekend is the big kick-off to the summer season, which means cookouts, camp, games outside, family trips, and beach days are now a staple of life.

While you try to keep your eye on your little ones all the time, you can't be everywhere at once -- plus, there are some dangers that could happen right under your watch.

So how can you keep your child safe and healthy all summer long? Parents has expert tips to help.

Summer Car Safety

A child trapped inside a hot car can suffocate quickly. When it's 93 degrees F out, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees F in 20 minutes -- even with a window cracked. To protect your child:

  • Never leave him in an unattended car, even if the windows are down.
  • Always keep your car locked, even when it's in the driveway or garage.
  • Keep automobile keys out of reach and out of sight of children.
  • Teach older children how to disable child-resistant locks in case of emergency.
  • Make sure your trunk or hatch is locked at all times.
  • Keep rear fold-down seats closed so kids won't crawl into the trunk.
  • Call your auto dealership about having your car refitted with a release mechanism inside the trunk.
  • Must-Read: Car Seat Safety Check

Protection Against Drowning

Drowning remains the second leading injury-related killer of children ages one to 14. It claims more than 900 children's lives each year, with about 300 victims under the age of four. Practice these pool rules to ensure your child doesn't become a drowning victim:

  • DO enroll your child in swimming lessons with a certified instructor between the ages of four and eight.
  • DO install a fence around your pool. It should be at least five feet high and have a self-closing, self-latching gate.
  • DO use a rigid safety cover when no one's in the pool. Avoid soft coverings like plastic sheets; if your child tries to walk on top, he could fall underneath.
  • DO make sure children wear sneakers or rubber-sold shoes while walking on the deck, which can get slippery or too hot for bare feet.
  • DON'T keep toys or clutter on the pool deck; a child could trip over something and fall into the water.
  • DON'T let your kids push others, run, or play aggressively near the pool.
  • DON'T let your children swim alone, and make sure your family knows what to do in an emergency; including whom to call and where to find rescue equipment.

Must-Read: Teach Your Child to Swim

When at the beach, following these safety guidelines:

  • DO watch your child at all times, no matter how good a swimmer he is -- and even if he's playing shallow water. Unlike swimming pools, oceans can change conditions at any moment.
  • DO make sure your child stays within the designated swimming area -- away from piers, pilings, and diving platforms.
  • DO check the surf conditions every morning. Ask the lifeguard which potential hazards you should watch for that day.
  • DON'T let your child use floatation devices or inflatable toys if she's not a strong swimmer; they could suddenly shift position, lose air, or slip out from underneath her.

Must-Read: First Aid for Drowning

And before you let your baby splash in a public or backyard baby pool, follow these tips:

  • DO empty backyard pools every night. "Stagnant water can lead to a urinary-tract infection and can infect any cuts your child might have," says Jeanne James, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Tulane University School of Medicine, in New Orleans. Turn the empty pool over to drain so mosquitoes don't breed in it. This will also cut down risk of accidental drownings.
  • DO be constantly vigilant about the danger of drowning. No baby or toddler, even one using a flotation device, should be left alone in or near a pool for even a minute. Let the phone ring, leave the door unanswered, and don't turn your head.
  • DO be wary of taking our child to a public baby pool if she's under six months of age, because you don't know how clean the water is. If another child has diarrhea, for example, he can contaminate the pool water with E. coli bacteria, which can make your baby extremely sick. "Infants are more susceptible to gastrointestinal illnesses than older kids," Dr. James points out.
  • DON'T forget about the safety of other children. Although special swim diapers are meant to prevent leakage of urine or feces, they don't do a perfect job. "If your child has diarrhea, she should not be in a public pool at all," Dr. James says.

Must-Read: Surprising New Research on Child Drownings

Related Links:

Swimmer's Ear, Sunburn, Dehydration

Swimmer's Ear Prevention

If your little water bug gets ear pain after days in the pool, she may have swimmer's ear, an infection of the skin inside the ear canal. It develops when excess moisture allows the bacteria that are normally present in the ear to multiply. Some tips:

  • Have your child wear earplugs.
  • Be sure he shakes the water out of his ears when he gets out of the pool.
  • You can also try vinegar drops. Doctors claim this old-fashioned method works because the acidity in the vinegar changes the skin's acid-base balance, making it an unfriendly environment for bacteria. Put a couple of drops of undiluted vinegar in your child's ear in the mornings and evenings and after a swim.
  • You can give him acetaminophen to relieve the pain, but see your doctor for prescribed drops to clear the infection.

Sunburn Strategies

A sunburn leads to skin damage and may cause skin cancer later in life. Babies are especially vulnerable to burns: "The younger the skin, the more fluid it has in it, which means it burns faster," says Paula Elbirt, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. Sunscreen is effective if used correctly. Follow these strategies to get the best protection for your family.

  • Make it a habit. From a young age, your child should view sunscreen application as part of her daily routine.
  • Buy brands you know your kids like. There are plenty that cater especially to children, and they're generally less sticky and greasy than they were even a few years ago. And don't forget the SPF-boosted lip balm.
  • Protect your baby. Ideally, infants shouldn't be exposed to direct sunlight at all, so it's best to rely on clothing, hats, and shade for protection. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now says that it's safe for babies younger than six months to wear sunscreen on small, exposed areas of their body, such as the face or the backs of the hands.
  • Apply 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. "It takes time for sunscreen to be absorbed into the skin," explains Yohini Appa, Ph.D., executive director of research and development at Neutrogena, in Los Angeles. "If you wait until you go outside, it's possible to get burned even before you put it on."
  • Slather it on at least every two hours. Even if the label says the sunscreen works for six hours or all day, it's essential to reapply more frequently, especially if you're sweating. Waterproof sunscreens can rub off when your kids wrap up in a towel after swimming, so put more on them every time they get out of the water.
  • Protect and defend. "Sunscreen alone isn't going to prevent people from getting skin cancer," says Karen Graham, of Castro Valley, Calif., whose son Billy died of melanoma at age 22. You've got to adopt other key habits too.
  • Cover up. The AAP recommends that kids wear a wide-brimmed hat and, if practical, a long-sleeve shirt and pants when in the sun for a long time. (Little ones can wear a hat with a back flap, which protects the neck and ears, but older kids may resist -- insist that your child keep his baseball cap facing forward.)
  • Be shady. Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and teach kids to get in the shade whenever their shadow is shorter than they are.
  • Get glasses. UV rays increase the risk of cataracts and can burn sensitive eyelids, so kids -- and even babies -- should wear sunglasses. Buy protective clothes or wash your kids' clothes with Rit Sun Guard, which ups the SPF factor to about 30.
  • Don't trust those labels. Since 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged that many sunscreen manufacturers' claims are exaggerated: "The terms sunblock and waterproof may confuse and mislead some consumers, and the term all-day protection can provide consumers with a false sense of security," the agency wrote.
  • How much is enough? Studies have shown that people apply only 20 to 50 percent as much sunscreen as they need -- two milligrams per square centimeter of skin -- to get the SPF protection on the label. Adults need about an ounce of sunscreen (a shot glass full) to cover the whole body, and kids need about half an ounce. That means that a six-ounce bottle should last a family of four only one day at the beach (if everyone reapplies only once).

Dehydration Danger

If your child starts to seem listless, irritable, or dizzy when the weather is hot, he may be dehydrated -- a condition that can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Young children are at special risk because they can't release heat as effectively as teenagers and adults do, and they often don't realize when they're thirsty. A toddler or preschooler may also be nauseated or have a stomachache. Signs in an infant include a sunken soft spot, rapid breathing, and dry eyes. Some prevention tips:

  • Start your child's day with a glass of water, then make sure she drinks frequently throughout the day.
  • Although water is best, fluids such as lemonade, juice, and milk are also fine.
  • Steer clear of caffeinated beverages, which are dehydrating.

Related Links:

Helmet Use, Ticks, Poison-Ivy, Foot Injuries

Headed for Injury on a Bike or Scooter?

Fewer than half of all U.S. children wear helmets when biking, skating, and riding scooters, a recent survey revealed. And of the kids who are wearing helmets, 35 percent are wearing them improperly. Helmets that slip to the front, back or side of the head expose parts of the skull, while extremely loose or unbuckled straps can allow the helmet to completely fall off the head in an accident. Follow this checklist to ensure proper fit:

  • Eyes: The rim of the helmet should be one-to-two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
  • Ears: The straps should form a "V" under just beneath the ear lobe.
  • Mouth: The buckle should be flush against the skin under the chin; when the rider opens his mouth, he should feel it snug on the chin and hugging the head.

Tick-Proof Your Yard

Protect your family from ticks carrying Lyme disease with these tips:

  • Clear the yard of any loose brush -- such as leaves, sticks, the remains of perennials, or grass clippings -- where ticks may hide.
  • Stack firewood on a platform to prevent contact with the ground.
  • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean to avoid attracting small animals.
  • Install a cap on your chimney to prevent raccoons and other small animals from entering your house.
  • Keep cats indoors and dogs on leashes to reduce the chance of their bringing ticks into your house. Do daily tick checks on pets that have ventured outside, and consider having your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease; the shot is inexpensive and up to 90 percent effective.
  • If you live in an area that has lots of deer, consider installing a fence to keep them out of your yard.

Poison-Ivy Prevention

It's a good bet that your kids will come in contact with poison ivy in your yard, at a local park, or on a hike this summer, even if you have taught them about its telltale trio of shiny leaves.

  • At the beginning of each summer, clear out any poison ivy you find in your backyard. (Make sure to wear work gloves and long pants to avoid getting the rash yourself.)
  • If your child will be playing in a wooded area, she should wear clothing that covers her ankles, plus sneakers with socks rather than sandals.

Foot Injuries

Whether at the beach or in the backyard, children love to go barefoot, making summer prime season for foot injuries.

  • Even wearing sneakers can't always protect your child's feet from a nail, a sharp tack, or a piece of glass. But sneakers are a better option than open sandals or flip-flops, and any kind of sandal is better than bare feet.
  • A child who does have a cut on his foot should wear clean cotton socks with sneakers to wick away sweat, Dr. Neuspiel says, because perspiration can make cuts worse. "Sweaty sneakers can harbor pseudomonad, a dangerous bacterium," he says.
  • Copyright July 5, 2006.

Related Links:

  • Alert on Bike and Scooter Injuries

Travel, Outside Fun, In an Emergency

When You Travel

When Playing Outside

When It's an Emergency

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