The lazy days of summer are almost here. It's a time when some of the best childhood memories are created. Unfortunately it's also a time when childhood injuries and deaths rise dramatically. With more kids outside, there are added dangers parents should keep in mind.
Bikes, skateboards, scooters or Rollerblades increase injury risk in the summertime. Scrapes, bumps and bruises are common and can be partly due to learning to use a piece of equipment. Falls can't be completely avoided, so children should protect their head by wearing a helmet every time they use anything with wheels. Broken bones heal, but an injured brain can cause permanent disability, including problems with learning, behavior, memory and problem solving.
Every year thousands of children are hit by cars while playing outside. Many parents overestimate their child's ability to cross the street alone. In fact many parents think children as young as 7½ are capable, but there is good evidence that children aren't really ready until about 9 or 10. Tell children under age 9 to never go into the street or cross the street without you.
Pool drowning is another huge danger for kids. It's the second leading cause of death for children after motor vehicles and it can happen very fast. Most children who drown in pools were last seen inside the home, were out of sight less than five minutes and were under the supervision of one or both parents. The best way to avoid pool drowning is to keep children away from pools unless they are well supervised. An adult should be designated to keep their eyes on the children in the pool, undistracted by reading, talking on the phone, mowing the lawn or any other activity. Drowning is silent. Children do not splash around and yell for help like in the movies. They go down and stay down quietly. All pools should have a barrier around them (such as a fence with a locked gate). Kiddie pools should be emptied at the end of each day. And children should be taught to swim. Learning to swim isn't a substitute for adult supervision, but it will make drowning less likely.
During the hot summer months the sun's rays are more intense and are more likely to cause a painful burn, but burns aren't the only problem. Most kids get 50-80 percent of their total lifetime sun exposure before age 18, so the seeds for skin cancer are planted in childhood. Covering up is the best way to reduce sun exposure when outdoors. This can done using clothing, an umbrella or shade. Regardless of your child's skin tone, be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen. This is especially important for infants who have thinner skin and for those with very fair skin, but even darker-skinned people can have sun damage and need to protect themselves. Use SPF 15 or higher and be sure the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
The last thing parents should be sure to keep in mind is that babies die every summer after being left in overheated cars-children who are cherished by their parents-but a distracted mother or father honestly forgets the baby is in the car. With the windows closed and the doors locked, the temperature inside the car rises dramatically. Within minutes the baby's temperature goes up and the child can die from heat stroke. It seems unthinkable, but good, loving parents do this, so readers should never think it couldn't happen to them.
If you have an infant, develop a system for remembering that your child is in the car. These incidents often happen when parents change their routine. Try to slow down and remind yourself that you have the baby that day. Some parents get a mirror that allows them to see the baby in the rear-facing seat. Others put a reminder like a pacifier on the dashboard or attach it to their key ring.
In 2002, NASA developed a clever safety device called a Child Presence Sensor. One part of the device is placed in the car seat and detects when a child is placed in the seat. The other part attaches to the driver's key ring and sounds an alarm when the driver moves a certain distance away from the car. If the driver doesn't return within one minute, the device continues beeping until it is re-set by returning to the infant seat.
As much as you might like to, you can't surround your kids in bubble wrap, but with a few precautions you can help keep your child healthy and injury-free this summer.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.