Another school year is drawing to a close, and kids everywhere will soon be enjoying all those fun warm-weather activities they’ve been daydreaming about since last September. However, as kids head for the playground; dust off their bikes, scooters, and rollerblades; or prepare to plunge into pools, lakes, or ponds, the last thing likely to be on their minds is safety. It’s the job of parents or other adult guardians to properly supervise, equip, and educate their kids for safe outdoor play.
The following safety tips from Dr. Jay Taylor of Mercy Health – Emergency Services will help kids make the most of their summer without winding up in the ER:
Play it safe on the playground
Falls are a major cause of emergency room visits for kids. In fact, Dr. Taylor notes that about 70% of the physical injuries he sees in children stem from falls—and playgrounds are fertile territory for such injuries.
“It’s very common for parents to take their kids to the local playground and turn them loose on the equipment. But even though playgrounds are designed to be kid-friendly, children still need to be supervised closely by an adult and allowed only on age-appropriate equipment. For example, there should be no two-year-olds hanging from monkey bars. Parents should also check to ensure there are appropriate surfaces underneath playground equipment to cushion landings and falls, such as mulch, rubber pellets, or rubber mats. These materials help reduce the incidence of serious injury significantly,” says Dr. Taylor.
In addition to checking for a cushioned landing surface, parents are advised to inspect the playground equipment to verify that it’s in good repair with no cracks, splintering, fraying, or other potential hazards. Touch the surfaces to make sure they’re not excessively hot. Some equipment surfaces exposed to direct sunlight can actually get hot enough to burn the skin. Also, never allow children to play on playground equipment while wearing anything around their neck that could become entangled and cause strangulation, which includes loose garments and those with hoods or drawstrings. Wearing flip-flops—which can lead to severely stubbed toes—should be discouraged as well.
Get properly equipped before free-wheeling it
As far as kids are concerned, bikes, scooters, skateboards, and rollerblades are synonymous with spring and summer fun, but any time wheeled play equipment and concrete meet, there’s a potential for serious injury. Even if your child is an experienced rider/skater, it’s imperative that he or she wear all of the protective equipment appropriate to the activity—a helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads, wrist guards, sturdy shoes (again, no flip-flops), etc. “When you see professional skateboarders and cyclists competing or performing, you’ll notice they’re never without this protective equipment. We should expect no less from our kids,” Dr. Taylor remarks. He also recommends hanging a helmet right on the handlebars of each child’s bike so they’ll be less likely to pedal off without it.
Make a splash for water safety
Of course, adult supervision is critical when kids—especially toddlers—are around swimming pools or other bodies of water. Even if the pool or beach has a lifeguard on duty, parents should still be watching their youngsters closely. Lifeguards typically have numerous kids to keep track of at once, and it takes a mere moment for a child to disappear under the water and drown. “I also recommend putting alarms on doors and gates leading in and out of pool areas so adults can hear immediately if someone enters or exits,” Dr. Taylor advises.
Beware the sun’s glare
Unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can lead to an immediate painful sunburn that can bring summer fun to a halt quickly. What’s more, experiencing repeated sunburns increases one’s risk of developing skin cancer later in life. That’s why it’s so important to protect our kids’ skin (as well as our own) with sunscreen whenever they’re participating in outdoor activities.
After applying sunscreen, make sure kids wait the recommended time period before going out in the sun, swimming, etc. Also, reapply the sunscreen frequently and generously—especially after swimming or perspiring heavily.
Other recommended sun-protective measures include limiting outdoor activities between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when the sun is most intense, and ensuring that playgrounds, playing fields, and other recreational locations provide access to a shady spot so kids can get out of the sun. Of course, adequate hydration should be encouraged, as well, to prevent heat-related illness. “Also keep in mind that sun exposure isn’t just a concern on bright, sunny days. Even when it’s cloudy, you should have sunscreen on to protect your skin from ultraviolet rays,” Dr. Taylor adds.
Provide a safe place for independent play
Learning to play independently is an important part of every child’s maturation process, so Dr. Taylor recommends that parents provide an environment where their child can play unsupervised when they’re ready. “We don’t want to put our kids under the microscope 24/7, so when it’s age-appropriate for them, they should be allowed a safe place, such as a back yard or similar location, to play without constant oversight. Nonetheless, it’s still incumbent upon the parents to make sure that location is free of hazards, just as they would when evaluating a playground,” says Dr. Taylor. ❦