Sun, Fun—and Safety
Pools, playgrounds, and sports should incite excitement—not excessive anxiety. Parents, learn how to promote summer fun without sacrificing safety.
Through a child’s eyes, summer looks like an endless array of long, playful days. But as a grown-up, you see things a bit differently. You also see the dangers that lurk outdoors that can lead to broken bones, burns, and bike crashes.
It’s hard to know which view to take: the free spirit or the safety cop. Stop trying to choose a side. You can strike a balance between your adult nature and your inner child (yes, the one that agrees that dirt doesn’t hurt). Know what safety steps are nonnegotiable for four popular kid pastimes. Check them off your list, then go have some fun.
Your inner child says: Exploring the world on two wheels offers your child freedom, fun, and a healthy dose of exercise.
Your adult voice says: Each year, about 26,000 children worldwide are seen in emergency departments for traumatic brain injuries related to bicycle-riding.
The healthier response: Don’t rush your child off training wheels—most aren’t ready for a two-wheeled bike until age 5. Choose one that fits properly, allowing your young cyclist to place the balls of both feet on the ground while sitting on the seat.
When biking, insist that your child wear a helmet for every ride. Choose one that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (check the inside label for the stamp of approval). In the event of a crash, helmets protect kids from more severe injury.
Your inner child says: For many kids, the very definition of summer fun involves splashing in the pool, lake, or ocean.
Your adult voice says: Unintentional drowning is a real and very serious risk. More than 20 percent of drowning victims are children ages 14 and younger.
The healthier response: Never let kids near pools or other bodies of water unattended. Designate at least one adult who knows how to swim and can oversee kids without distraction. For infants and toddlers, this grown-up should stay at arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”
Swimming lessons may lower your little one’s risk of drowning. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends signing kids up when they’re ready, which can be as early as age 1. Still, even trained swimmers need a watchful adult nearby. And keep safety equipment, such as life preservers, on hand.
Your inner child says: Joining the squad helps your child build friendships and learn sportsmanship.
Your adult voice says: Every year, more than 2.6 million children end up in the emergency department with sports-related injuries. And as the mercury rises, so does the risk of heat-related illness during practice, games, or matches.
The healthier response: If your child wants to play a sport, take him or her to the doctor’s office to receive a pre-participation physical exam. Check that your little athlete has the right protective gear for the activity (helmet, wrist guards, knee pads, etc.). And help children train for their sport. Proper physical conditioning can protect arms, legs, and other body parts from damage.
To stay cool in hot temperatures, encourage coaches to schedule games and practices in the morning or late afternoon instead of the heat of the day. Avoid heat illness by providing your child with plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. During practice or a game, the kids should get a water break every 20 minutes.
Playing at the Playground
Your inner child says: Swings, monkey bars, and seesaws encourage kids to test—and extend—their physical limits. Did you just say monkey bars? They’re just plain fun.
Your adult voice: Even backyard swing sets pose safety risks. After hours in the sun, metal, plastic, and rubber equipment can scald your child’s skin, while wooden materials supply splinters. Ropes and nets may trap small heads. And falling from a swing, slide, or other structure on to a hard surface like concrete or asphalt can cause injuries.
A healthier response: Start by installing equipment properly and safely. It should be on a level surface and anchored firmly to the ground. Place energy-absorbent materials, such as safety-tested mats or wood chips, underneath. Make sure it covers at least six feet in all directions (even farther for swings and slides).
Before playtime, check the temperature of all equipment. And frequently inspect equipment for loose bolts, rusted chains, and jagged edges that could catch a child’s clothing.