A major advantage of living in Florida is being able to enjoy the summer-like weather all year around. While we’re used to kids playing outdoors, we shouldn’t take our children’s safety for granted while they’re taking advantage of the Sunshine State’s great weather. Here are some important safety precautions we all need to take to protect our little ones.
The two main recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to prevent sunburn are to avoid sun exposure and cover up using lightweight cotton clothing, hats with wide brims and sunglasses.
Children should avoid playing outside during peak sun exposure, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and stay in the shade whenever possible. Be sure to apply sunscreen that provides high SPF with both UVA and UVB protection on both sunny days and cloudy days, and reapply at least every two hours or after swimming or heavy sweating. You should do this even if the product is labelled as being “waterproof” or “sweat proof”.
Heat and humidity can affect children more than you might think. Children should stay well hydrated: if they are engaging in sports activities, make sure they are well hydrated BEFOREHAND and have easy access to water or a sports drink during activity. They should be hydrating every 20 minutes and after one hour of sports activity with a sports drink or other available carbohydrate sources to replenish energy stores.
Children playing sports in any kind of padded safety gear will get overheated and dehydrated faster than those not wearing such equipment. Your children should be drinking enough fluids that they have to urinate every 2-3 hours. When heat and humidity reach critical levels, outdoor activities should be limited to no more than 15 minutes.
If your child has been in the heat and experiences headache, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, faints or nearly faints or feels lightheaded, get them out of the heat right away, take off any protective gear, put cool wet clothes over their head, neck and pulse points, and encourage them to drink fluids.
If they don’t get better within about 20 minutes, have them evaluated by a medical professional.
We can never say enough about about the topic of pool and water safety. Florida leads the U.S. in drownings most years, with the most vulnerable pediatric age group being 1-5 years. Direct supervision by an adult is the best prevention against submersion incidents and other injuries around and in a pool or water at the beach. NEVER leave children alone near a pool, spa or other body of water, not even for a moment.
Keep in mind when there are multiple adults around, everyone assumes someone else is watching the kids. Many submersion incidents (the newer term for drownings and near-drownings) involve large parties with many children and adults present.
It’s very easy for a child to fall into the pool or get into trouble in the water without someone noticing because there are so many distractions present. Designate one adult to watch the kids and then try to make sure they’re not distracted from that job. You can assign watchers to work in shifts, so everyone can enjoy the gathering, knowing their little ones are safer for the extra effort.
If your children are using inflatable swimming aids, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. They are NOT intended to be substitutes for approved life vests.
Whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be within an arm’s length, using “touch supervision”. Don’t forget that little ones can drown in as little as an inch of water in a bathtub, a large bucket, an inflatable toddler pool or anywhere else that water can accumulate. A moment is all it takes for a child to sustain a submersion injury. When bathing your child, make sure you have everything you need before you put your child in the water, let voicemail pick up any phone calls and let your family know not to bother you during bath time.
Swimming lessons are a spring and summer tradition in Florida. They can go a long way toward teaching your child how to get themselves out of trouble in the water. Teach your children how to float, swim and stay calm in the water, even if they accidentally swallow water or get some up their nose. Be aware though, that there is no such thing as “drown-proofing” your child. The only way to do that is to keep them away from the water completely!
Children should wear life jackets at all times while on boats or around a body of water. Make sure the life jacket is the right size for your child, i.e. not too loose, and worn as instructed, with all straps secured. As the adult, wear a life jacket for your own protection and to set a good example. Blow-up water wings, toys and rafts should not be used as a substitute for life jackets or personal flotation devices.
Adolescents and adults should be warned of the dangers of operating any kind of watercraft under the influence of alcohol and drugs and even some prescription medications. Know your local regulations for the legal ages at which drivers can operate licensed watercraft.
We wish you and your family a fun and safe summer!
Lou Romig, MD, FAAP, FACEP