Summer safety for your toddler

How to keep your child healthy and safe in the sun and the water this summer, plus how to treat bites, stings, cuts, bruises, sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke


In summer, your toddler can present you with a whole range of new health concerns. Here’s what you can do about injuries such as bites, stings, cuts, bruises; weather-related problems such as sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke; and ensure your toddler is safe around water.


Sun safety

Getting out in the sun makes us feel better, and we need it to make vitamin D to help protect our bones. But skin cancers are on the increase each year.

Dr Lowri Kew, GP, has these guidelines for you and your child to enjoy time in the sun safely:

  • Avoid the sun between 10am and 2pm. Don’t be fooled by temperature, which comes from infrared not ultraviolet (harmful) rays, or cloud cover (which cuts only 20% of UV rays). Newborns shouldn’t be in direct sun at all, and children under 1 should be in the shade as much as possible.
  • Do like the Australians with their SLIP, SLOP, SLAP now WRAP campaign. Slip on a T-shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on some sunglasses. Ensure clothes are tight-weave (not see-through), and remember that if they get wet, this lessens the protection. UV sunsuits are great for your toddler.
  • Use a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 40, and re-apply after swimming. Apply 30 minutes before going out and repeat every two hours.
  • Wear protection. Hats with brims protect the face and eyes; sunglasses with UV filters further protect eyes (UV light can cause cataracts).
  • Stay hydrated. Ensure your child drinks regularly and check to see if he’s peeing, as this gives you some idea of his hydration.

If, despite your best efforts, your toddler does get sunburnt, you should:

  1. Go inside or in the shade.
  2. Assess the burn. 1st degree causes pain, redness and swelling (no blisters), and you should cool the skin with water; 2nd degree causes severe pain, redness and blisters, and you should seek medical advice; and 3rd degree is unlikely, but would indicate a serious burn.
  3. If necessary, offer an age-appropriate painkiller, such as paracetamol.
  4. Don’t expose the burnt area to more sun until healed.
  5. Avoid creams. If your toddler is unwell, the burn is large or it appears to be 2nd degree, seek medical advice.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke occur if the body overheats and dehydrates, causing:

  • Thirst
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Increased sweating
  • Fast breathing
  • A raised temperature

If your toddler has heat exhaustion and heat stroke, cool and rehydrate him. If he doesn’t improve, is confused, loses consciousness or has a temperature over 38°C, seek medical help immediately.

Water safety

Your toddler can drown in as little as 3cm of water, so you can’t be too careful with a paddling pool, at a swimming pool or on the beach. Watch your toddler at all times and never leave him alone near water, even for a few seconds.

“I’ve always put my daughter in one of those swimsuits with built-in floats. Or you can get separate float jackets to wear over their swimsuits. They’re not designed as life-savers, but they give additional buoyancy,” says Julie, 28, mum to Susannah, 3.

If you’re going out in a boat, make sure you have a life jacket that’s the correct size for your toddler, as an adult one could be more of a hindrance in an accident.

It’s a good idea to get your toddler swimming as soon as possible. It’s part of the National Curriculum, but many schools don’t offer lessons until pupils are 7 or 8, so make your own arrangements if you want him swimming earlier.

Bites and stings

To minimise the chances of a distressing and painful sting or itchy bite from mosquitoes, wasps, bees, and even caterpillars:

  • Don’t use scented sun-cream, and avoid perfume.
  • Cover all food and put drinks in bottles with lids, so your toddler won’t end up swallowing a bee, for example.
  • Keep a constant eye on your toddler when he’s eating ice-cream, and wipe fingers and mouth once he’s finished.
  • After dusk, make sure your toddler is covered up with a long-sleeved shirt and long trousers.
  • Stay away from stagnant water – mosquitoes love it.
  • Use insect repellent – there are various types on the market, but always check for age suitability. You could also try natural remedies such as citronella.
  • Invest in a mosquito net – you can buy special sizes for prams and travel cots, and they fold up so won’t take up too much room in your suitcase.
  • Most of the time a sting is nasty but only causes a localised reaction, which can be alleviated with over-the-counter sting-relief cream. Occasionally it’s more serious, so if your toddler shows signs of hives, swelling, shortness of breath or wheezing, difficulty swallowing, light-headedness or fainting immediately after being stung or up to an hour later, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Outside Europe, mosquitoes present a more serious problem due to diseases they may carry, such as malaria. See your doctor for the most up-to-date advice on what to take.

Cuts and bruises

Bruises and scratches seem to be part of childhood, and the onset of the summer cycling/tree-climbing/outdoor games season can make matters worse. It’s a good idea to have a basic first-aid kit, with antiseptic wipes, creams and plasters. And remember that in hot, steamy climates wounds are more likely to get infected, so take extra care to keep them clean.

Include homeopathic arnica cream, too, which is available from most chemists and is great for knocks and bruises. But remember that it shouldn’t be used on broken skin.

Cuts on the soles of bare feet can be painful, so invest in water shoes or sandals for the beach. Shoes that strap on are better than flip-flops, which may cause your toddler to trip.

Watch this great summer safety video from Fireman Sam…

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