parent holding small child at an amusement park

Summer Safety Tips for Kids and Families

Summer can bring different challenges for children and their families. School vacation, swimming pools and the beach, new experiences away from home, and lengthy travel: All of these can put kids in novel situations.

Here is some straightforward, common-sense guidance—from Columbia pediatricians at the ColumbiaDoctors offices on West 86th Street in Manhattan—for situations you may have anticipated and others that might never have occurred to you.

Water safety

For many children, the summer is about the pool or the beach. “When they are swimming, children should be supervised at all times by an adult or a lifeguard even if they are in shallow water or kiddie pools,” says Rachel Lewis, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Floaties and blowup toys are fun, but they’re not life preservers. Keep an eye on the children at all times.”

kids swimming underwater in a pool
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Lewis emphasizes that learning to swim should be as high a priority as any other preventive health issue. In general, children can start swim lessons as early as 4 to 6 months. Kids on boats should always wear correctly fitted life jackets, buckled as directed, even if they can swim.

Heat stroke

“Usually we associate heat stroke with older people, or those with chronic health problems, but it can definitely be an issue with children as well,” says Danielle Taylor, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Heat stroke—when body temperature can exceed 104°F—is a medical emergency that needs to be treated quickly. Signs and symptoms can include confusion or trouble thinking clearly, hallucinations, seizures, and worse. “If you see a child in danger of heat stroke, you want to call 911 right away and then cool their body down as best you can by spraying with cool water or sitting in front of a fan,” says Taylor.

Children with special needs

Summer can be particularly challenging for children with special needs and their families. “A lot of kids thrive in the structure that school creates for them,” says Gabriella Paskin, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Paskin advises that maintaining some kind of structure, especially with a visual schedule, may be helpful to children on the autism spectrum and children who struggle with changes in routine. Families also should anticipate novel situations in which their kids are likely to find themselves and prep their kids as much as possible. That might include social stories or even videos of a first trip on an airplane, for instance.

Some kids may be eligible for year-round services from their school districts. If your children do not qualify, think about adding additional therapies (like speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy). Similarly, you might consider asking the professionals working with your children during the school year for additional homework or activities to work on during the summer months.

Given the different demands of summer, some families may want to pause medication for children who take stimulant medication for ADHD. This may be reasonable especially for children who have a hard time gaining weight on stimulants and for children whose main challenge is behavior and attention in the school setting. Families should talk about the pros and cons of summer medication management with their prescribing doctor, Paskin adds.

COVID

COVID, of course, remains a concern for all. “You want to be sure that everybody is washing their hands and doing it well and frequently. This remains extremely important, though we talk about it less these days than we do about masking,” Lewis says.

parents and child walking through an airport corridor
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When traveling in an airplane, bus, or other confined space, Lewis recommends masks for everyone—even vaccinated adults—as much as possible.

“Be mindful of crowds and avoid eating indoors, unless you can maintain a six-foot distance between your family and other diners," Lewis says, adding that the same distance should be maintained when swimming in crowded pools. “Chlorine may kill germs and viruses when they’re in the water, but other swimmers in close proximity can still transmit infections, including COVID, and wearing masks in a pool isn’t realistic.”