Ready, Set, Summer! 6 Toddler Safety Smarts

Keep your little one safe in the fresh air and sunshine with these six essential tips:

1. Use Sun Sense

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that more than two million non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed annually. Before heading out the door, the AAD recommends applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Look for a chemical-free version that uses zinc or titanium dioxide and offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Fair-skinned, light eyed beauties are most vulnerable but avoiding sun exposure from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. is recommended for all young children regardless of skin type. If staying out of the sun during the heat of the day can't be avoided, dress your tot in sun-protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. 

The FDA requires that sunscreens be effective for at least three years so last summer's lotion should be fine. But-if used properly (and most people don't) a bottle of sunscreen shouldn't last too long. One ounce—enough to fill a shot glass—is the amount needed to adequately cover the exposed areas of the body and it should be reapplied every two hours and after swimming or perspiring. Even "water-resistant" varieties may lose their effectiveness after 40-minutes in the water. Toweling off removes sunscreen too, so when in doubt, reapply.  

2. Don't Get Hot and Bothered

Heat exhaustion takes its toll on children much more quickly than on adults. Symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and confusion. If you suspect your child is suffering from it, cease all physical activity, offer fluids and move your child to a cool place-an air-conditioned room is best. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends applying a cool compress. (Or, dampen her clothes with cold water.) If symptoms persist or your child's body temperature is 103°F or more, seek medical attention.

Cars turn into saunas in the summer. Be mindful of the temperature inside your auto. (Tragically, 42 children died in 2003 from being left in hot cars.) On sunny days, car temperatures can climb higher than outside temps. To be safe, never allow your kids to play in the car. Heat stroke in children can occur within minutes—even if a car window is opened slightly. 

3. Practice Picnic Pointers

Eating contaminated food can make anyone sick but young children are at high risk due to their immature immune systems. The USDA estimates 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year. Signs of contamination include: nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea which also mimic other illnesses. High fever, bloody stools, and prolonged vomiting may occur in serious cases. The onset of symptoms may occur within minutes, days, and even weeks afterward ingesting harmful bacteria or other pathogens.

Microorganisms may be present on raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Fresh produce like lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons aren't sterile either. Safely cooked and ready-to-eat foods can become contaminated with pathogens transferred from other raw foods and their juices. More bad news: Food handlers with poor personal hygiene can contribute to the problem.

Proper cooking destroys most harmful pathogens. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot and always reheat food to 165 degrees. Protect yourself and your family by washing hands well and often, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating.

Be sure to wash cutting boards with warm, soapy water before working in the kitchen. Keep raw separate from cooked food and marinate food in the refrigerator. Wash produce with cool, running water and scrub fruits with rough surfaces (like melon) using a soft brush. When the temperature rises above 90 degrees, the FDA recommends refrigerating food after one hour.

 4. Be Water Wise

Water can get contaminated, too. Teach your tot never to swallow outside water. At the pool, never leave children unattended. During parties, reduce the risk of accidental drowning by assigning an adult to supervise little swimmers at all times. Don't contribute to the contamination problem with dirty diapers. Change toddlers away from the pool and wash your tot's behind before allowing her to take a dip. Showering after swimming in a pool, river, or lake is another good way to reduce the chances of contamination.

Keep toddlers steady on their feet with safe shoes. Sandals with straps that fit snuggly and sneakers are your best bet to keep them upright. Crocs and flip flops may look cute, but near water can be especially hazardous.

5. Bug Off

Unfortunately bites and stings from mosquitoes, bees, and ticks are as much a part of summer as lemonade stands and popsicles. Bugs are at their buggiest in the early morning and late afternoon, but you count on mosquitoes lurking near stagnant pools of water and ticks hiding in tall-grassy areas.

Before you spend time in the woods, use a bug spray containing 10 to 30 percent DEET. The AAP says this concentration is safe for use on children over two months old. Be sure to wash it off when you come indoors. Dress in long sleeves and pants (tuck pants into knee socks) and spray repellent on the clothing and exposed parts of the body. At the end of the day, wash clothes before wearing again and remove insect repellent from your child's skin with soap and water.

If your tot gets bite or stung, relieve the itching with ice or a cold compress. A dab of toothpaste containing baking soda also has a soothing affect. You can use hydrocortisone cream, too. See a doctor if the swelling is severe.

Check for ticks before bedtime. They like warm areas so look behind the ears and around the waistband. If you find one, remove it by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pulling gently but firmly. Cleanse the area with antiseptic.

6. See Green

Curious toddlers may come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, and other green-leafed perpetrators found commonly in many suburban backyards. It's important to know what's growing back there. Teach your toddler never to pick berries, leaves, or flowers without your permission (even daffodils can be deadly!)

Poison Ivy (leaves of three, let them be!) is miserable and lasts up to two weeks. The uncomfortable, itchy rash doesn't typically appear for a few days after exposure. If your curious toddler comes in contact with poison ivy, keep his hands away from his eyes. Wash the area immediately with soap and water to remove lingering oil. Ease discomfort with cold compresses and calamine lotion.

The oil can also be transmitted by pets. Fido won't get poison ivy but the oil stays on his coat and can be transferred during an innocent hug. Bathe pets before petting commences.

Other Backyard Bandits

Lawn equipment, gardening tools, hot grills, are yard chemicals can turn your backyard into a potential minefield.

Be sure to keep gardening tools, sharp grill utensils, and scrub brushes out of reach of wandering hands.

Teach your child that the outdoor grill is a stove and can hurt him badly.

Accidental poisoning from insect repellents, pesticides, and hydrocarbons like charcoal fluid and gasoline are other threats. (If you suspect a child has ingested poison, call the nationwide poison help line—(800) 222-1222—to be connected to a regional poison center.)

Power tools and lawn equipment can also be extremely hazardous. Lawn mowers kick up small sticks and rocks that can easily hit a small child in the head or neck. Keep her safely inside when cutting the lawn or using trimming tools like weed eaters.

Wooden decks, swing sets, and thorny plants can all give kids splinters-ouch! If your tot gets a splinter, wash the area with plain soap and water and use tweezers to carefully remove the offender. Dab some antibiotic ointment over the area and cover with a bandage. Can't find the tweezers? Try swiping it out gently with a clean credit card. See a doctor if the splinter is deep and the area is red, inflamed, and painful.

American Academy of Family Physicians

The USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service

The American Academy of Dermatologist