by Dr. Alyssa Huncken
As one of the most challenging school years our children have experienced is coming to an end, spending time outside will be more important than ever. Spring, sun, warmer weather and longer days mean many exciting things including exploring the outdoors, going on picnics, and trading in the puffy winter coat for short-sleeved shirts and shorts. How can we make sure our children are safe this summer?
Be Sun Smart: Simple Ways to Protect Your Family from the Sun
This time of year means being extra vigilant about sun safety and biting insects. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the most preventable cause of skin cancer and one-quarter of our lifetime sun exposure happens during childhood and adolescence.
- Apply sunscreen SPF 30 or greater on all exposed areas each time you or your child go outside. Even use sunscreen on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds.
- UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow, and concrete, so make sure you’re protected.
- Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Because most people use too little sunscreen, make sure to apply a generous amount.
- For infants under 6 months, avoid direct sun exposure when possible and cover with lightweight, light-colored clothing and a hat. Protect them by finding shade under a tree, an umbrella, or the stroller canopy.
- When possible, dress yourself and your children in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body, such as lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats. Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.
- Limit your sun exposure between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when UV rays are strongest.
- Watch the daily UV index. Pay particular care to sun safety precautions when the index is moderate or higher.
- Remember to set a good example for your children and family by practicing sun safety yourself.
Staying hydrated during sports, exercise or heat
Being active is an important lifestyle choice for every member of the family. While playing outside, encourage frequent water breaks to prevent dehydration. This is especially important on hotter days when children are running or playing sports outdoors.
Staying properly hydrated keeps the body and mind running efficiently and feeling strong. Serve water with meals and snacks and take a few extra minutes to pack the water bottles before your family heads out the door. Helping your children choose water first, and modeling this choice yourself, builds healthy habits that will pay dividends for a lifetime.
Children are more likely to use safe habits if their parents model the good behavior. Be sure to wear your helmet when biking or skating with your children. Your child should wear a helmet anytime they are on anything with wheels — this includes bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades/skates, or scooters.
There are many creative ways to decorate your child’s helmet to make it more personal, more fun, and more likely to be worn.
It is extremely important to make sure your child has the right size helmet and wears it every time when riding, skating or scooting.
Choosing a Properly Fitting Helmet
- Measure your child’s head for size. Have your child try on several helmets in his size until one feels right. With the new helmet on your child’s head, make sure that they can still see and hear clearly. Adjust the sizing pads or fit ring until the helmet is comfortably snug.
- The helmet should sit level on your child’s head and low on the forehead—one or two finger-widths above the eyebrow.
- Adjust the slider on the side straps to form a “V” shape around the ears. Lock the slider if possible.
- Buckle the chinstrap. Tighten the strap until it is snug, so that no more than one or two fingers fit under the strap.
- Does the helmet fit right? Have your child open his mouth wide like a big yawn. The helmet should pull down on his head.
Staying Safe — In and Around the Water
Swimming is a fantastic form of exercise and a major component of summer vacation fun, but parents should remember that swimming also comes with risk. Drowning is the second leading cause of death in children 1-4 years old. It is necessary to create layers of protection while enjoying time with young children near pools, oceans, or lakes. Here are some safety tips to keep your children safe around the water this summer:
- Home pools should have gates at least 4 feet high, be self-closing and locked at all times.
- While swimming or spending time near water, designate one adult at a time to be the water watcher. Never leave children alone in or near the pool or spa, even for a moment. Close supervision by a responsible adult is the best way to prevent drowning in children.
- Life jackets should always be used while boating or on docks. Adults should wear life jackets for their own protection and to set a good example.
- Avoid inflatable swimming aids such as “floaties.” They are not a substitute for approved life jackets and can give children and parents a false sense of security.
- Swim lessons are recommended for all children and parents.
- Ocean swimming should only be allowed when a lifeguard is on duty and only within the designated swimming area.
- Teach children about rip currents. If you are caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until you escape the current, and then swim back to shore.
- Never swim alone. Even good swimmers need buddies!
- Seek shelter in case of a storm. Get out of the water and off the beach in case of lightning.
Summer Bug Safety: Tips to Stay Bite-Free
Biting insect populations tend to soar with the warmer temperatures. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can transmit diseases including West Nile Virus (WNV) and Lyme disease. No need to worry! There are ways to keep children safe and still enjoy the outdoors. Staying extra vigilant about biting insects this time of year will help keep you and your family safe from bug bites.
- Use insect repellent to protect against ticks, mosquitos, and bees.
- Apply sunscreen products first if also using insect repellent.
- Adults should apply the repellent to their hands first and then spread on the child’s exposed skin (avoid child’s hands and around eyes and mouth, use sparingly around ears). Do not let children handle or apply insect repellent themselves.
- It is a good idea to wear long pants if spending time in a wooded area.
- Make sure to check for ticks after returning home.
COVID-19 and the Outdoors
It is now known that COVID-19 transmission is significantly lower outdoors than indoors, however, it is still important to keep socially distanced when possible and avoid large crowds regardless of vaccination status.
Summer’s long, warm days provide kids many outdoor opportunities for play, relaxation, and recreation. Time spent in the great outdoors requires being mindful of children’s health and safety to prevent harmful injuries, so that you and your family can focus on creating happy, fond memories.
Your team at Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Heath, is here for you and your family to help your child stay safe and healthy throughout the summer season and beyond. We wish you and your family a summer season filled with fun, safe activities that create enjoyable memories.
Dr. Alyssa Huncken is a Physician at Changebridge Medical Associates, a member of Consensus Health, in Montville. Dr. Huncken, a Montville native, returned home to practicing medicine in her hometown community in December 2020. A graduate of Montville High School, Alyssa went on to obtain her Bachelors of Science degree from Fordham University. She attended the Columbia University Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Program, where Alyssa developed her mission to serving others. Alyssa returned to New Jersey where she received her Doctorate degree from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed her Residency at the Atlantic Health Overlook Family Medicine program. During her residency she was awarded the Anthony F. Coppola MD Clinical Excellence Award, which is presented to the family medicine resident whose clinical care consistently represents the highest ideals of family medicine.