I love when toddlers and preschoolers take swimming and water survival classes. They are introduced to water safety, get acclimated to water play, and often can learn life-saving skills.
However, I always emphasize that smaller children, no matter how well they do in their swimming classes, are not yet independently water safe. If your child is under 3 and/or under about 35 lbs., you will always want to be in the water with them at arm’s reach, even if they are wearing a flotation device. And never ever allow your child to play unsupervised where there is a body of water for them to accidentally or non-accidentally jump or fall into (like a pool without a secure pool fence providing a safe physical barrier).
I love puddle jumpers as flotation support for toddlers and preschoolers. They are Coast Guard approved life jackets and they are actually helpful in keeping your child’s face above water if you lose your grip and they accidentally float away from you. As your child gets a little bigger (3-5), he or she may be able to “swim” with the puddle jumper independently, but always with an adult no more than two seconds away. Nothing can replace close adult supervision, whether at the pool, the beach, or the lake.
Older kids who can independently swim still need supervision and should take precautions when swimming in the ocean (possible rip tides) or streams/rivers where the current can be stronger than expected.
If boating is part of your summer, make sure all children under 13 years old wear Coast Guard approved life jackets whenever on a moving boat, and always keep your eyes on them whether the boat is moving or still.
Part of what makes summer so great is the sunshine and the long days. Making sure to protect your kids’ delicate skin while still allowing them to enjoy the sunshine can be tricky. Here are my tips for sun safety for the whole family.
The first thing you can do is limit sun exposure during the hours when the sun is strongest: 10am-4pm. Yes, that’s a big chunk of the day, but if you plan to be in the sun during the morning and the afternoon (and retreat to the shade or cool indoors for lunch and maybe nap), you’ll have the best chance to avoid dangerous sunburns.
If you do need to get direct sun during those times, use physical barriers to protect against sunburn. This means UV-protective clothing and swim suits. I love long-sleeved UV-protective swim shirts for kids (and don’t be ashamed to use them as adults too!). Hats that offer full coverage for the face and ears are a must. And even little ones should be wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UV rays to protect their fragile eyes.
When you’re looking for a sunscreen, you want to look for a product that uses non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as its active ingredients. Chemical sunscreens, like oxybenezone, get absorbed through the skin and can cause allergic skin reactions or disrupt hormones. Nanoparticles used in physical sunscreens can also be absorbed by the skin and it’s unclear if they are safe once they’re absorbed. Spray sunscreens, though convenient, bring up the questionable safety concern of inhaling the particles. Take a look at the inactive ingredients also, trying to avoid parabens, retinyl palmate, and allergens like methylisothiazolinone (MI).
For babies under 6 months old, do your best to protect them from the sun without using sunscreen (keeping them in the shade and using sun-protective clothing and hats). For kids over 6 months, apply sunscreen 10-15 minutes before sun exposure and make sure you cover any areas that might see the sun. You want to reapply every 2 hours and/or anytime they get wet (make sure they’re completely dry before applying). And don’t forget to cover yourself in sunscreen too! Sun damage can lead to age spots, wrinkles, and of course skin cancer.
Summertime is bug time, so let’s do our best to protect our kids from all kinds of bug bites and stings. For babies under 6 months, insect repellents are not recommended. You can use mosquito nets over strollers and baby carriers, long pants and sleeves, and avoid being out at dusk when mosquitos are most actively feeding.
In general, keeping skin covered and unexposed to possible bug bites is the best bet. If venturing into woods where ticks reside, dress in long pants, long sleeves, socks and shoes. At the end of each day inspect your child’s skin and scalp to make sure there are no ticks present. If you do find one, don’t panic. Use fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin as possible and remove the tick quickly, pulling away from the skin. Wash the area with soap and water, using peroxide or rubbing alcohol if you prefer. Flush the tick down the toilet. If a rash or fever develops within about a month after the tick bite, make sure to seek medical attention, and do let them know about the timing and location of the tick bite.
Insect repellent sprays are safest when applied over long sleeves and pants rather than directly on skin. The CDC recommends DEET concentrations of 20-30% for protection against ticks that carry Lyme disease, but I worry about the safety of using high concentrations of DEET on children’s or even adults’ skin. Lower concentrations (7-10%) are adequate for repelling mosquitos.
There are also bug-repelling are options aside from DEET out there. IR3535 has a better safety profile than DEET (it has a chemical structure similar to the amino acid Alanine). Concentrations of 20% provide tick and mosquito protection. Picaridin is also less toxic than DEET and doesn’t cause as much skin sensitivity, so repellents containing about 20% Picaridin are another choice for protection against ticks and mosquitos.
A more natural or holistic choice would be to use essential oils. The CDC even recommends using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus in concentrations of about 30% in children over 3 years old as an adequate substitute for the chemicals above.
Safety on wheels
Kids of all ages should always wear a properly fitting helmet when they ride a bicycle, scooter, skates or skateboard. Even the little ones should get in the habit of wearing a helmet when they’re riding their tricycles. Knee and elbow pads are a plus as well.
ATVs are fun but not without their safety hazards. Never have a younger child “ride along” on an ATV. Older teens may safely ride if they show adequate maturity and are given proper instruction and supervision. Make sure they stick to a speed limit (ATVs can be unstable at higher speeds, with higher risk of rollovers and crashes) and ride only in the daytime on designated ATV trails. They should always wear approved helmet and eye protection, as well as long pants, long sleeves
Finally, remember that temperatures in parked cars can rise well above the outdoor temperature, so never, under any circumstances, leave your child in the car (not even for just a minute).
We know that all of summer won’t be spent outdoors, so be mindful of your kids’ screen time (including TV, video games, smartphones and tablets), and make sure they’re using their brains by reading, writing, or engaging their creative sides. Now that you’re well equipped to help your kids stay safe and healthy all summer, go out there and have the best summer ever!
To vibrant health,
|Dr. Jamilet Alegria, M.D., joined the CentreSpring MD team of providers in the fall of 2016 after spending years as a Pediatric Hospitalist at both CHOC Children’s in Orange County and at the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Inpatient Pediatrics Unit in Southern California.|
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