Playing outdoors poses a number of potential pitfalls for your child. We outline the offenders, from sun exposure to playground equipment.

mother applying sunscreen onto baby
Credit: Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Outdoor play -- even when there's no water for miles -- can pose other potential pitfalls. A sunburn or any unprotected sun exposure is chief among them, especially as the earth's protective ozone layer diminishes. The Environmental Protection Agency now predicts that the number of skin cancer cases will soar in the next four decades, causing an additional 200,000 deaths over that time.

Apply a waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to your child's exposed skin each time she goes out to play -- not just at the beach or the pool. Take special care on areas that are likely to burn, such as the nose, ears, shoulders, and around clothing or bathing suit lines. Reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes or so for maximum coverage, and limit the time spent in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are most intense. And have your child wear a hat with a wide brim whenever possible.

A backyard can be a safe haven for your toddler to play in, especially if it's fenced. Always supervise outdoor play; even in a fenced-in area, there can be unsuspected hazards. One often overlooked danger lurks in the leaves, berries, and flowers of certain plants, so canvass your backyard carefully for species that pose a hazard.

If you cook on the grill, treat it with the same caution as you would a stove. Have your child keep his distance, explaining that a grill is hot and is not to be touched.

In the garage, store lawn chemicals, insecticides, and lighter fluid up high and out of reach. The same rule applies to tools and sharp objects such as nails and screws. If you have an electric garage door opener, keep the controls out of your toddler's reach, and make sure the door has a functioning safety -- stop mechanism to prevent accidents.

Playgrounds are another toddler paradise that, ideally, should offer fun with no threat of injury. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. For 2-year-olds especially, many traditional playgrounds can be downright dangerous-not to mention intimidating. That's because the slides and the jungle gyms tower much too high for this age group, and the swings may not be equipped with safety bars or infant seats to protect small children from spills.

Look for playgrounds designed specifically for toddlers. A lot of towns have them. If your area doesn't, find out whether your local preschool opens its playground to the public at certain times of the day, such as in the early evening during the summertime.

Once you find a playground that fits the bill for you, make sure that sand, wood chips, or soft matting has been placed under equipment such as swings and bars. Concrete or asphalt can be unforgiving in the event of a fall. Then supervise your child carefully. It's a time for him to spread his wings, test his limits, and know that Mommy or Daddy is there to help him through a few inevitable (and, hopefully, minor) tumbles!

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.