Summer safety for young children

Summer safety for young children

Photo and Words By Brittany Carlson

I live in upstate New York, so when it’s finally warm enough for my preschooler to go outside without a winter jacket, he can’t wait to wear shorts and t-shirts and play outside for hours. I usually don’t even think about sunscreen yet. So, we usually start of the summer with nice little sunburn. And then I start to think about summer safety.

When it comes to kids’ safety, I believe the old adage rings true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Summer is a great time for parents to remind themselves outdoor safety hazards and get a plan in place for preventing or dealing with emergencies as they arise.

Water safety

When the temperature heats up, the first thing my three-year-old, Adam,* wants to do is go swimming, either at the beach or in our backyard kiddie pool. I love to see him having fun in the water, but I am also very aware of the risks water play holds for young children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one cause of injury-related death in children ages 1-4 is drowning. The CDC advises constant adult supervision when children are in or near water.

Personally, I decided that I would not get our kiddie pool out in the backyard unless I had at least one other adult coming over, whether that is a neighbor, relative or friend. This way, I will always have another pair of eyes on my children.

Other tips to prevent drowning include teaching kids to swim, learning CPR, and installing a fence around pools, according to the CDC. I would also suggest putting a padlock on outdoor fences, even if you don’t own a pool. Now that my preschooler can play in the backyard more, I learned the scary way that he is old enough to open our fence gate.

Sun/heat hazards

Another summer safety hazard is overheating or other heat-related illnesses. According to the CDC, children under 4 years old are at the highest risk for overheating. The CDC advises adults to never leave children in a parked car even with the windows open, to dress children in “loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing” and to schedule outdoor activities for the cooler parts of the day (early morning and evening).

 According to Parents Magazine, the best way to treat heat illnesses in children is to get them into the shade, spray them with water and fan them, and apply ice packs (but call 911 for possible heatstroke). 

To avoid sunburns, children should wear clothing that protects them from UV rays and use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, with UVA and UVB protection, the CDC advises. Parents Magazineauthor Sara DuMond advises parents with infants to avoid being in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. by using shade as much as possible, and dressing baby in a hat and tightly-woven clothing. Don’t forget to reapply according to the package directions!

Sunlight isn’t the only source of burns; accidental burns are a major source of burn-injury for children under age 4, who sustain half of all accidental burns every year, DuMond writes. Ovens are an obvious culprit, but outdoor grilles, fireworks and sparklers are additional fire hazards in the summer: parents should be vigilant to keep children at a safe distance, and learn how to treat burns, according to DuMond.


For more on sun safety for families with young children, visit

Food safety

Outdoor grilling and picnicking can also lead to another summer hazard: food poisoning. To avoid letting food go bad outside, keep hands and foods clean and keep raw meats separate from other food, DuMond writes. Cold food should be kept at 40 degrees Farenheit or cooler and food should not sit outside for more than an hour if the temperature is above 90 degreees, or for more than two hours any other time, she adds.

Since there isn’t always running water and soap available at playgrounds and parks where we like to picnic, I carry a supply of antibacterial wipes, like Wet Ones, in my diaper bag to wipe the kids’ hands with before we eat.

Bug bites/poisonous plants: The not-so-great outdoors

Mosquitos and ticks are more than just a summer nuisance: they could carry viruses such as the Zika virus or West Nile virus, or Lyme disease. To protect children from contracting these illnesses from insects, the CDC advises using insect repellant and checking everyone in the family for ticks after playing outside. Bug repellants with DEET for are best for children 2 months old and older, DuMond writes.

To avoid bee stings, parents should avoid using products with fragrances and be careful of leaving food and drinks outside (even food stains on clothing), according to DuMond. 

Stings can look worse the day after they occur, DuMond adds, so parents should call a doctor and be ready with treatment. 

I learned this last summer when my then-2.5-year-old, Adam, got stung by a bee in the back doorway of our house, right under his eye. At first, it seemed like it was just going to leave a little welt, but within a few hours, his eye was nearly swollen shut and his lips were huge and puffy. This wasn’t even an allergic reaction – just his body’s first reaction to an insect sting. On my pediatrician’s advice, I used the hydrocortisone cream and gave him Benadryl every few hours, but it still took a day or two for the swelling to completely calm down.

Poisonous plants are another summer hazard. Poison ivy, with three pointy leaves on each stem; poison sumac, with has 6-12 leaves growing in pairs; and poison oak, with three rounded leaves per stem, are common poisonous plants that cause itchy skin rashes, DuMond writes.

One fact I didn’t know was that if a child touches a poisonous plant, there is a 10 minute window where, if the skin is washed thoroughly with soapy water, the child won’t contract the rash, according to DuMond. If a rash develops, hydrocortisone cream and an oral antihistamine can help with itching, DuMond writes.

Fall-related injuries

Summer adds more opportunities for kids to climb high structures, adding to their fall risk.

In the U.S., more than 200,000 children visit the emergency room each year for playground-related injuries, according to the CDC. Constant supervision on playgrounds and checking equipment for safety can help prevent these injuries, the CDC states. 

I’ve found that setting some rules in advance of visiting the playground can help everyone stay safe, especially if you have more than one child with you. Some examples could be keeping a safe distance from swings in use and only using slides to come down (not climb up).

If children show signs of a concussion after a blow to the head (memory loss around the event, appearing dazed, confusion, clumsy movements, slow to answer questions, losing consciousness, behavior and personality changes), the CDC advises calling a doctor immediately.

First-aid kit

In spite of the best preparation, injuries still happen, and being prepared to treat them is key. DuMond writes that summer is a great time to make sure your first-aid kit is stocked with the right items, including bandages, soap, antibacterial gel, triple-antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, gauze pads, adhesive tap, tweezers, cold packs, pain relief medication, oral antihistamine, rubbing alcohol and a digital thermometer.

I keep my first-aid kit on top of the fridge in the kitchen, a central place in my home out of reach of the kids. I hope I don’t need to use it this summer, but I feel safer knowing that it’s there.

Since I started researching summer safety, I’ve learned that most of these summer hazards can be avoided by staying aware of where children are and what they’re doing, and by preparing them in advance of going outside (with sunscreen, bug spray, proper clothing, etc).

A few questions to ask yourself are: How closely is someone watching the children swim or play on the playground? How long have they been outside? Is it time to reapply sunscreen or take a break? Are they playing in or near wooded areas (where poisonous plants or ticks could hide)?

A little extra awareness can make the difference between spending a summer day outside having fun, or nursing an injury.

 *names changed to protect privacy


Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and now has two sons, Adam (3) and James (7 months). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She and her family live in upstate NY. 

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