Summer safety tips for Chicago families

Summer means pulling out the bikes, hitting the beach and spending long afternoons on the playground soaking up the sun. But it also brings some potential dangers that are easy to forget when everyone is having so much fun.

Recently, Chicago Parent and Goldfish Swim Schools teamed up to host a Facebook chat with some of our favorite local experts to share tips to ensure Chicago area families have a fun and safe summer. Along with the experts, dozens of parents took part in the hour-long chat, sharing their own great tips and important reminders.

Here are just a few of the takeaways.

Water safety

Now is the time to prepare for your time around the water, says Goldfish Swim School Mundelein. Whether your child is a beginner swimmer or just needs to brush up on skills, having them in a structured learn-to-swim program before the summer months is a must.

It is also important that your child know the rules around the pool or lake. Before anyone jumps in, walk around the swimming area and decide together which areas your child can swim in. Lastly, have a Designated Water Watcher. Don’t assume that a group of adults standing around a pool or lake make the swimming environment safe – one person at a time should ­­be specifically assigned to keeping their eyes on the children in the water with no distractions, Goldfish says.

Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project reminds parents that drowning doesn’t look like it’s portrayed on TV or in the movies. There is no waving or yelling. Downing victims often look like they are bobbing in the water and they cannot yell because they are gasping for air.

Another thing for parents of young kids to remember is that children can drown in a very small amount of water, so supervision is key even around baby pools in the backyard, says Safe Kids Chicago.

In Lake Michigan, keep your eyes out for currents. Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says that whenever there are waves, there is a possibility of dangerous currents. It’s best to keep kids at arm’s length or put them in life jackets whenever there are waves. In addition, teach kids never to fight against the current.

Goldfish teaches kids to flip onto their back like an otter, float to control their panic and follow a path back to safety, usually perpendicular to the current.

Goldfish Swim School – Roscoe Village also suggests having your child practice falling into water, turning around to the nearest wall or dock and climbing out. “A great way to help kids remember how to get out safely is with the phrase ‘Elbow, elbow, tummy, knees!’”

In boats, everyone – including parents – should wear a lifejacket. Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project says since 2010 there have been 447 fatal drownings on the Great Lakes and only four were wearing lifejackets.

Family wellness

Safe Kids Chicago offers these tips for playground safety:

  • Actively supervise kids at the playground.
  • Make sure kids take off scarves, hooded clothing, purses, necklaces and helmets before playing to avoid any potential strangulation risk.
  • Choose the right play area based on your child’s age (i.e. playgrounds for kids 2-5 are usually less than 4 feet tall and slightly less physically challenging).
  • Check the temperature of slides, other equipment and rubber surfacing before kids climb on because those surfaces can get very hot in the sun and burn kids’ skin.

For those concerned about sun safety, Babyganics suggests checking with your pediatrician to determine the appropriate age to begin sun exposure and keeping kids in rash guards and sun hat to protect against incidental sun exposure. Babyganics’ sunscreens are suitable for ages 6 months and older.

Even though it’s tempting to go with a nonscheduled summer, GIT Mom recommends a better plan: keep the kids’ routine intact. There is no reason the sleep schedule needs to completely fall apart just because it’s light out at 9 p.m., she says. Children need sleep every single day to aid their growing process physically and mentally.

Bike safety

Everyone should wear a properly fitting bike helmet, including parents, who are the role models for safety.

Safe Kids Chicago offers these tips for fitting the helmet:

  • Helmets should be no more than two finger widths above the eyebrow. Kids should also be able to look up and see the rim of the helmet.
  • Helmet straps should form a perfect “V” at the ears.
  • Once the helmet is buckled under the chin, have kids open their mouths to yawn. If they can feel a slight tug of the helmet on the top of their heads, it’s on tightly enough. If not, adjust straps to make it tighter.

But just how do you get the kids to wear the helmets without a fight?

Active Transportation Alliance says, “in general I always tried to be very straightforward and honest about why we wear helmets without trying to resort to scaring kids into being safe. Talk to kids about how special their brain is, how it controls everything in our body, and also how fragile it is. … We talk about how that damage can be permanent and so it is that much more important to not take any chances with our brain.”

Plus, make it a rule that there is to be no texting and biking ever.

With more things to do than days of summer, Chicago area families taking part in the chat said they loved berry picking, beach hopping, festivals and fireworks. Others said they couldn’t wait to check out the places to play, such as Maggie Daley Park and The 606 trail. For the best guide to summer, check out Chicago Parent’s Going Places magazine and its always growing calendar.

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