Summer Health & Safety: Help Your Kids Avoid the Season's Most-Likely Mishaps

Published Monday, June 19, 2017

Day camp, the beach, the pool or park – the world becomes one huge playground once school lets out. 

While all the extra running around, outdoor activities and new environments mean a whole lot of fun, they also carry with them many ways in which your child could become hurt or injured. Here’s how to keep them safe:

Reduce the risk of bites. While it’s impossible to get through summer without a bite, there are things you can do to help protect your child, notes Judy Schaechter, M.D., director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Miami and chair of the University of Miami Department of Pediatrics. “Insect repellent sprays and lotions with DEET are an effective deterrent against disease-carrying mosquitoes, including daytime-active Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus,” she says.

Summer Health & SafetyDressing children in clothing with a very tight weave and choosing light colors over dark hues, which can act like magnets for mosquitoes, are also recommended, as are plug-in fans. “They help keep mosquitoes at bay,” says Schaechter, who suggests keeping air flow concentrated at children’s legs, as mosquitoes prefer to travel close to the ground.

Keep food poisoning from spoiling the fun. Summer picnics are a great way for families to enjoy time outdoors, but you must be mindful of how hot weather can affect your food. To stay safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend keeping perishables including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products and all cooked leftovers, as well as foods containing eggs, in a cooler filled with ice – placed in the shade, if possible.

Barbecues, too, have the potential to land meat-lovers in the ER. Undercooked hamburgers can cause an outbreak of E. coli, a foodborne illness that causes severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Hot dogs taken off the grill too soon can result in exposure to listeria, a bacterial illness that can manifest in a headache and stiff neck, along with fever and muscle aches.

Educate your family about food safety to ensure they stay healthy and practice these CDC-recommended food-prep steps: 1) Cook to the right temperature; 2) wash hands and surfaces often; 3) refrigerate promptly; and 4) keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from ready-to-eat foods in order to avoid the spread of illness-causing bacteria.

Ban sunburn and sidestep heatstroke. Kids live for the outdoors in summer, but they especially need protection, as a bad burn or even frequent tanning in childhood can show up as skin cancer years later. “As much as possible, encourage kids to wear sun-protective clothing, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, along with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that safeguards against UVA and UVB rays,” urges Schaechter. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more is an important ally in protecting young skin against the sun's damaging effects.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises limiting children’s time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are strongest. Stay alert to overexposure and seek shade when kids need a breather from the sun, but keep in mind that trees or umbrellas don’t offer complete protection.

Even young and healthy people can get sick from the heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather and become dehydrated, notes Schaechter; infants and children up to 4 years of age are most vulnerable. “Encourage children to drink water before, during and after spending time outdoors,” she says. “Skim milk is also good for super-hydration as it provides calcium and vitamin D, and is a more healthful choice than sports drinks, caffeinated beverages and vitamin waters.”

Stay safe in the water. The first rule of water safety, Schaechter says, is to never leave your child unsupervised around any body of water. “An adult has to be designated to stand watch at all times,” she stresses. If you have a pool, “Make sure there’s no furniture near it, or balls or toys close to the water’s edge that children might be tempted to lean over and grab.”

To ensure a fun, accident-free day in or by the water, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids Miami recommends educating children and teens to be on the alert and stay away from any electrical appliances; confirm water depth before diving (and only in a pool that’s been approved for it), and refrain from diving in waters less than 9 feet deep; immediately get out of the water if there’s a thunder- or lightning storm warning; keep in mind that inflatable swimming devices such as rafts, tubes and noodles are toys and should not be relied upon to prevent drowning; and avoid roughhousing, which can lead to a fatality.

If at all possible, teach kids to swim at an early age. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. And adolescents and grown-ups alike should learn CPR (call your local Red Cross chapter and learn it online).

For more ways to keep children safe – on the playground, riding bikes, playing sports – go to

Your Summer Safety Checklist

Summer Health & SafetyAccidents happen, so play it safe and be prepared. Judy Schaechter, M.D., director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of Miami and chair of the University of Miami Department of Pediatrics, advises stocking up on these must-haves for your medicine cabinet:

Over-the-Counter Medicines & Treatments

  • Acetaminophen for fever
  • Ibuprofen for inflammation
  • Benadryl (generic)
  • Hydrocortisone 0.1%

First-Aid Supplies

  • Adhesive bandages in assorted sizes
  • An ice pack (stored in the freezer)
  • Sanitizer (wipes, spray or lotion/gel)
  • Ace wrap bandages
  • Cotton
  • Gauze
  • Water (either to drink or clean a wound)

Don’t forget to dispose of outdated medications, says Schaechter. “They might be used mistakenly, before seeing a doctor and getting a diagnosis, or taken on impulse by an unknowing or upset adolescent.”

Emergency Phone Numbers to Keep Handy:

  • Your pediatrician or primary care doctor
  • Regional poison control center 800.222.1222
  • Regional animal control center
  • Local police, fire department, EMS 911
  • Local hospital
  • Nearest relative or neighbor

 Written by Beryl Meyer