It’s no surprise that accidents happen, even when we’re trying to be careful. But because we’re outside more and the days are longer, summer can be an especially dangerous time. According to SafeKids Worldwide, there’s an 89 percent increase in children drowning in the summer months and a 45 percent surge in bike-riding deaths.
Fortunately, turning your child’s summer into a safety zone is a matter of making a few precautionary tweaks. Here are some small risks you might be taking that can lead to big problems, and our top tips for avoiding them.
Slip-up: Tossing charcoal after a BBQ.
Cleaning out the grill and disposing of coals in a remote section of your yard or campground or at the beach may seem like a good idea because it’s far away from everyone. Trouble is, kids run all over the place in the summer and they’re often barefoot.
“Charcoal can get up to 1,000 degrees farenheit,” says John Drengenberg, the consumer safety director at Underwriters Laboratories, in Northbrook, Illinois. Even if the coals don’t look hot, they can retain their heat for hours. And it only takes a moment’s contact with a scorching coal to seriously burn a child’s delicate foot.
Play it safe: Whether you’re at home, at the beach or camping, cool down hot coals before disposing of them. Douse them with a garden hose or a bucket of water after cleaning out the grill.
Slip-up: Leaving your child in the car.
Each year, 38 children die from heat stroke after being left unattended in motor vehicles, according to Kidsandcars.org. The inside of a car can heat up quickly—to as high as 122 degrees farenheit in less than 20 minutes on an especially hot day. Moreover, young children overheat faster than adults because they’re less able to regulate their body temperature.
Play it safe: Never leave your child in the car, even with the windows “cracked,” or even just for a few minutes. And keep in mind that a change in routine or a bad night’s sleep can easily lead to the unthinkable—driving to work with your sleeping baby in the car and forgetting that it’s your day to drop her off at daycare.
To help you remember that your baby is in the car, put a soft toy in the front seat, or secure something you need, such as a purse or backpack, in the backseat near your baby. Also, get in the habit of checking to make sure that everyone has exited the car when you get to your destination and lock car doors when you leave so a curious toddler can’t climb in your car when you’re not looking. Keep your car keys out of your child’s reach too.
Slip-up: Keeping tiki oil within your child’s reach.
Toddlers and older kids are drawn to anything that looks like juice. Tiki oil, which is used more in the summer to light tiki torches, comes in different colors, such as purple, blue and red, and can easily be upturned and ingested. Another common mistake parents of young children make: “They’ll pour gasoline for the lawn mower into a smaller container, like a measuring cup, and leave that sitting around,” says Rose Ann Soloway, R.N., a clinical toxicologist at the National Capital Poison Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to being poisonous, “Kids can swallow it or breathe it into their lungs, causing aspiration pneumonitis, which can be fatal,” Soloway says.
Play it safe: Store tiki oil in its original container out of your child’s sight and reach, in a locked cabinet just like you do medicine and vitamins. The same goes for gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. These containers don’t have child-resistant caps, which a determined toddler may be able to override anyway.
If you believe your child has ingested something potentially poisonous, call the Poison Control Center at 1‑800‑222‑1222. You’ll be connected with a nurse, physician or pharmacist at a local center who is specially trained in recognizing and treating poisoning. Do this instead of heading directly to a hospital emergency room or calling 911—you’ll get the fastest advice on how to handle the situation.
Slip-up: Assuming someone else is watching the kids.
“At pool parties, many parents assume somebody else is watching. Mom assumes Dad’s watching; Dad assumes Mom’s watching, and it’s easy to get distracted,” says Phyllis F. Agran, M.D., M.P.H., professor emeritus of pediatrics at the UCI School of Medicine, in Irvine, California. Even a few unsupervised minutes in the water can be deadly for a young child.
Play it safe: Assign a supervisor. One of you needs to be officially on duty and concentrating on your child. At pool parties with children present, designate a supervisor and make it clear by saying to your spouse, for example, “Okay, you’re on duty while I’m chatting with our friends.” Don’t think it’s enough to make your older kids, who are having fun too, keep an eye on your younger ones. Make that supervisor your spouse or another adult.
Slip-up: Letting your older child ride his bike without a helmet.
Studies show that kids ages 11 to 15 tend to wear helmets less often than younger ones.
Play it safe: Be on helmet patrol. A bike helmet can reduce the risk of bicycle-related traumatic brain injury by up to 88 percent. So, of course, you’ll want to make sure everyone—you included—is protected with a properly fitted helmet whenever you ride. Keep on your older child to always wear one.
Slip-up: Keeping the wading pool filled.
“Young kids can drown in an inch of water or less,” says Drengenberg, so don’t think the water in your child’s baby pool is harmless.
Play it safe: “Dump the wading pool when you’re done with it,” Drengenberg says. “And turn it upside down so it doesn’t catch rain water.” In fact, empty all outdoor containers of water after use, including five-gallon buckets and insulated coolers; they’re a formidable drowning hazard.
Slip-up: Leaving your medication on the hotel night stand.
“When we’re traveling, it’s often much easier for youngsters to get into things that might be safely stored at home,” says Soloway. We stow medication and vitamins in suitcases, on night stands—places that are accessible to children, she says.
Play it safe: If you don’t have access to a locked cabinet, store your medication and vitamins out of your child’s reach, just like you would at home. Lock your medication in your suitcase or store it on a high shelf. Do the same at Grandpa and Grandma’s house, too, and do a safety check. Make sure any medication or vitamins they take aren’t accessible to your child.
Sandra Gordon is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting and consumer issues.