Have a fun (and safe!) summer: Outdoor safety tips for kids
Summer is a great time to be a kid, but this time of year can also put more kids in harm's way.
Help your children have a safe summer by following these tips from Erin Summa, Health Promotion Coordinator for the Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety.
Swimming and boating are great summer activities, but they also can be dangerous. Fortunately, a few simple precautions can help keep kids safe at the pool, beach, lake or river.
"One thing to remember about swimming outdoors in Washington is that the water is very cold," thanks to ongoing snow melt in the surrounding mountains, Summa says.
Swimming in cold water can cause life-threatening changes to breathing and coordination. Children can't always be counted on to pay attention to how cold they’re getting. If you see a child shivering uncontrollably or with lips turning blue or purple, it's a clear sign that it's time for a break.
Children should always wear a life jacket in open water, whether swimming or boating, and be under direct parental supervision, says Summa.
"That doesn't mean sitting on the beach reading a book," she adds. "It means staying close and actively engaging with them."
Even in a pool setting, Summa advises parents to put life jackets on children who can't swim, and to enroll children in swimming lessons every year to maintain and grow their skills in the water.
Related: Stay safe on the water this summer
Washington state has no statewide laws requiring helmets for bicyclists, but many cities and counties do, including King County, Pierce County, Tacoma, Gig Harbor and Puyallup. (Take heed, parents — these laws apply to all bicyclists, not just children!)
Children should also wear proper helmets and protective gear for other wheeled sports, such as skateboarding and riding scooters and hoverboards.
Summa cautions parents to choose the right helmet for the activity and make sure it fits correctly. A correctly fitted helmet sits 1–2 fingers over the eyebrows and the straps should form a “v” just under the earlobe. Pull straps snug, and adjust the pads or fitting ring so the helmet fits snug on the head. You should be able to shake your head without the helmet moving out of position.
Helmets rated for bicycling must be replaced in the case of a crash. But multi-sport helmets, which are used for higher-impact sports such as skateboarding, are designed to withstand multiple impacts.
"Many parents look at the style of the helmet and assume it's a bike helmet or skateboard helmet, but they need to look at the rating, not the style," Summa says.
Open windows can be a serious summertime hazard for young children, and Pierce County is home to the highest number of pediatric window falls in the state.
If you have young children at home, she continues, install window stops to keep accessible windows from being opened more than four inches. Be sure to keep furniture and other climbable pieces away from windows, and, as an extra precaution, plant shrubs and other plants under windows to help cushion a fall, should the worst happen.
“Teach children not to play near windows, but don’t actually rely on them to remember that,” she says.
Finally, Summa warns parents not to be lulled into a false sense of security by window screens.
"The screens don’t do a thing," she says. "Screens are designed to keep bugs out — not keep kids in."
Related: Tips to prevent window falls
Heading on the road for vacation this summer? Now is the perfect time to check to see if your children are riding safely.
Washington state law requires that all kids under age 8 (or 4’9” tall) ride in an appropriate car seat or booster seat, and that all kids under age 13 ride in the back seat.
“Most parents are unknowingly installing or adjusting their child’s car seat incorrectly,” Summa says. “The easiest way to find out — and learn how to fix it — is to have your seats checked by a certified child passenger safety technician.”
The Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety offers this free service in Tacoma, Auburn and Puyallup. Check our event calendar for the next car seat inspection.
This article was originally published in June 2014 and updated in June 2017.
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Maura is an experienced writer and editor who writes extensively about health and wellness topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical insurance.
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