Summers are made for family fun. But when temperatures rise, so do safety risks for kids. Per the National Safety Council, preventable accidental deaths peak during summer from dangers that include drowning, car accidents, and fires. It’s also a time when nonfatal injuries from things like grills, fireworks, and sunburn are more likely. Here’s how to prioritize simple safeguards that keep kids safer all summer long.
No parent wants to think about it, but drowning dangers consistently lead the CDC’s list of unintentional injury deaths for children. It’s the most common cause of accidental death for children ages one to four and in the top five for older children and teens.
Per research, regular swim lessons can offer a boost to kids’ physical and even cognitive development and offer parents some peace of mind, but even strong swimmers aren’t safe from drowning. Although a small study found that formal swim lessons can reduce drowning risk in children ages one to four, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that preschool-age children don’t have the motor skills needed for true independent swimming and should never be considered water safe.
Kelsey Ashe, a mom of three who works in healthcare, safeguards her family’s pool with door alarms, strict rules about adult supervision, age-appropriate life jackets for the kids and guests, and a secure 300-lb capacity pool cover that stays on year-round except when the family swims together. “If anyone falls onto the pool, the cover will prevent them from sinking in, and that probably gives me more peace of mind that anything,” she says.
Steer clear of the summer spike in auto-related dangers for kids by following the rules of the road safeguarding against heatstroke death. Check out local car seat laws and keep children in recommended seats as long as possible, never mix alcohol and driving, and keep your phone somewhere non-distracting during car trips.
Kids’ smaller bodies heat up 3-5 times faster than adults and they can experience heatstroke within minutes in a hot car. The ACT campaign from Safe Kids Worldwide encourages parents to Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child in a car even for a minute, Create reminders like placing something you’ll need like your work bag or phone near a child’s car seat, and Take action by calling 911 if you see a child left in a car.
Our longer summer days mean more sunlight and more sunburn risk. Kids can sunburn in as little as 15 minutes, and a blistering burn is a serious condition requiring emergency medical care, says Amit Joshi, MD, internal medicine physician with Bellevue’s Overlake Medical Center.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on all exposed skin (even lips) 15 minutes before going outside, and reapplying every two hours or after sweating or swimming. Per the AAP, sunscreens aren’t recommended for babies under six months, so keep little ones in the shade and choose photoprotective hats and clothing instead. Seeking cover during peak sunlight hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., lowers the risk of sunburn and keeps everyone cooler and more comfortable.
The sun isn’t our only source of heat—don’t forget about burns from grills and campfires. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends designating a 3-foot safety zone around grills and open flames. When burns happen, run them under cool water for 3-5 minutes, and seek medical help for any burn larger than palm-size.
Summer’s outdoor adventures can bring on bites of all kinds. Parents can protect kids from insect bites by removing standing water around their home (think buckets, birdbaths, and baby pools) and dressing kids in long sleeves and pants for hikes, says Joshi. “Even if children don’t have known allergies to bites, parents should be able to recognize the signs of anaphylactic reaction like swelling of lips, face, eyes, hands, and feet—any facial swelling or wheezing means kids should get medical care. Minor swelling and irritation can probably be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine.”
Don’t forget bites from four legged friends, either—each year over half of the country’s 4.7 million reported dog bites happen to kids under 14. Teach kids to never approach an unfamiliar dog, always ask a dog’s owner if petting is OK and allow the dog to see and sniff them before petting, and never to run toward or away from a dog. If a dog attacks or knocks a child over, kids should roll into a ball, cover their face, and lie still.
In many areas, wildfires are a summer staple, and the resulting smoky air can make outdoor play unsafe for kids. Smoky, polluted air is especially hard on babies and kids under five, says Joshi. “Lung development is still ongoing up the age of five and exposure to airborne pollutants can actually damage the lungs’ normal, healthy development.”
During summer’s smoky season, follow local air quality recommendations for “sensitive groups,” avoid vigorous exercise outdoors, and plan outings for waterways, where winds may keep some smoke away. As soon as the air clears, head back outside to enjoy your summer, safely.