Practical Dad

Safety Notes on Kids and Hot Days

When you take the kids out for summer vacations, they'll look for the fun stuff but you have to pay attention to them.  The combination of heat, humidity and activity can be a major problem for children.

We recently took the first trip to Orlando with the three kids and this became apparent as we waited in a slow line for a Universal Theme park ride.  Further ahead, a teenage girl leaned against a wall and then proceeded to slowly go limp.  Her father began talking to her as he supported her by the shoulder but her head suddenly lapsed into her chest and the support became an urgent effort to control the fall as she went into a heap.  Someone produced a cold bottle of Gatorade and the parents finally managed to induce her to sip the liquid; after several minutes - during which no park personnel were present - she was able to stand and leave the line, hopefully for an air-conditioned spot.  My mate is a physician who assisted and I could only feel for the father as I watched my own three.

And I already pay considerable attention to how they're doing.

Children - especially smaller ones - are more susceptible to heat-related problems than adults.  This is partially due to differences between the child's and the adult's body.  Another part, however, is that kids are simply too caught up in the activity to pay attention to their body's needs.  They don't think in terms of rehydration; they think in terms of a sudden awareness of thirst or nausea arising from dehydration.  And by then, it's already on the verge of too late.

So what should you consider as you prepare to take the kids for those summer days of family outings?

Hydration

  • Push water.  Not soda, juice or milk - water.  While the others contain water, the body does best with clear and colorless liquid that contain no additives to process.  If you have a baby less than nine months, you can even consider whether to give it water in addition to formula.  But seriously ask yourself if it's in the best interests of the infant to be out in mid-day heat.
  • If you aren't certain when to give the child water, use yourself as a guide.  Remember that thirst is a sign that you're already becoming dehydrated, so make it a point of pacing yourself with regular water intake.  And when you do drink, be sure that your child also drinks; kids are notoriously proud and drinking with you will go over better than Know-it-all Dad forcing the kid to do something utterly uncool as drinking because they need it.  The typical kid under twelve years of age should have an average of six cups of water daily so be sure to use that as a baseline and increase it with the heat and activity. 
  • When you change a diaper - or take a smaller child to the bathroom - pay attention to the color of the urine.  A lighter color urine is preferred since darker urine indicates that the urine is more concentrated and thus demonstrating dehydration.

Clothing and Accessories

  • Like everybody else, kids should wear lighter-weight and -colored clothing to reflect the heat.  It should also be looser fitting, so those pretty tights on your little girl are a bad idea.
  • Take an additional set of clothing to replace the sweaty clothing later in the day.  Children are more susceptible than adults to heat changes and a child wearing a sweaty/damp outfit will feel the chill more as the day's temperature decreases later on.
  • Kids should also wear hats to provide some protection from UV rays on the nose and forehead.
  • Any stroller should have a shade to protect the child.  If you think that your kid needs something additional, I've known some parents to carry a collapsible umbrella in the tote bag should the kid need additional protection.
  • Hot, humid weather wouldn't be the best time to use a snuggli or other close body device.  The nearness of the small body is uncomfortable for both of you and could even drive up the child's body temperature further.
  • Keep a good supply of diapers and wipes for more frequent changes, to forestall an increased risk of diaper rash and discomfort.
  • Be liberal in using a diaper rash ointment - A&D for example - to protect the child's bottom from chafing or rash.

Skin Care

  • A child's skin is more sensitive than an adult's toughened skin.  This means that before you depart for the day, apply a base coat of sunscreen and then reapply as the day progresses.  The back of any bottle will provide guidance on how often to reapply.
  • The peak of the sun's effects on skin are from 10 AM to 2 PM.  If possible, plan to spend some of that time inside.  For example, we planned to spend the bulk of that time in Orlando inside, in covered shows or eating lunch.

Behavior

  • Understand that your child is more likely to crap out earlier than he would otherwise and will later require more and/or longer naps.  This is typically accompanied by a cranky tantrum as the kid melts through the last of the energy reserves.  It isn't because he chooses to be nasty, but is instead finally overwhelmed and is no longer capable of providing self-control. 

If this seems like a lot to remember, then understand that one of your primary jobs as a father is to protect them so that they can enjoy these things.  And as they age, you can teach them so that they can pass it along to their own children.

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