It’s never fun to be sick, no matter the time of year.
But when outdoor adventures and summer vacations beckon, an unexpected sunburn, upset stomach or case of the sniffles can be especially disappointing.
“As parents, we tend to think about illness in the winter,” pediatrician Dr. Laura Jana says. “The unfortunate reality is that kids can get sick year-round.”
That’s why simple preventive strategies can help your children avoid certain health risks that can detract from learning and recreation, not just when it’s cold outside, but in the warmer months as well.
Jana spoke more about common seasonal hazards and how to avoid them:
Practice regular hand-washing
The value of good hand hygiene is often taught in school, but that notion might decline in the summer when playing outdoors or at home. “It’s good to get in the habit of hand-washing year-round” to combat illness-causing germs, Jana says. And pesky colds aren’t limited to wintertime; Symptoms associated with some of the common summertime viruses can include everything from runny nose, cough and muscle aches to GI symptoms (vomiting/diarrhea, stomach upset).
Stay protected from the sun
Even routine sunburn can result in red, irritated skin and cause significant discomfort, Jana says. That’s why sun safety is crucial. The more burned the skin is, the more likely children are to have additional symptoms, such as increased pain, irritability, blistering, of the burned area, and even fever and/or nausea.
Anytime a burn is significant enough to cause more serious symptoms – including open blistered areas — parents should touch base with their child’s pediatricians. Open areas of burned, blistered and exposed skin are at risk for becoming infected.
Travel with good hygiene
There’s no doubt that vacations are exciting. However, it also represents a highly-trafficked, contained space where fellow travelers often leave behind their germs. Once you touch contaminated surfaces, the germs on your skin still aren’t in a position to make you sick — unless, that is, little hands spread them around and they make their way into the body. (Of course, it’s never easy to keep young children from touching their eyes, nose or mouths.) Consider also packing hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to clean tables, armrests and seat belt buckles.
Take precautions at picnics
A properly prepared dish isn’t immune from food poisoning. After all, “it doesn’t take long for bacteria to grow” on potato salad, rice or lunchmeat that is left sitting outside on a warm summer day, Jana says. Keep items cold (in a refrigerator or cooler) until serving, and promptly chill any leftovers afterward. During preparation, also remember to thoroughly wash and rinse produce, and disinfect surfaces that dirty vegetables and/or raw meat, fish or poultry have touched. Finally, it’s best not to have guests share utensils or cups – as this sort of sharing is best avoided.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule
Even if a child doesn’t need to rise early in the summer, it is often beneficial to keep their nighttime routine fairly consistent when possible. The reason? “A lot of important things happen when you sleep,” Jana says. Among them: replenished energy levels and improved ability to fight infection. While some kids may handle a change in routine and late summer evenings more easily than others, keep in mind that even for older children, an accumulating sleep deficit can’t simply be erased by sleeping in on weekends.
Eat healthfully and stay hydrated
Both practices can be overlooked during the summer when busy schedules — or excess free time — lead to less-than ideal food choices. “Planning in advance to take healthy snacks with you can really help keep your family’s healthy habits on track,” says Jana, who notes that chilled orange slices, instead of gummy packs or popsicles, once were a family “soccer Saturday” favorite. No matter the schedule, remember that during warm weather, active kids need to stay well-hydrated, ideally with water and not sugary drinks; serving naturally hydrating foods can help achieve this important summertime goal.
A fun summer is a healthy one. Making sure good habits and preventive hygiene factor into your family’s seasonal plans will help keep everyone feeling their best.
For more ways to establish good habits that extend beyond a child’s vacation:
- Teaching Healthy Habits Starts Early
- How to Raise a Healthy Eater
- Practical Tips for Raising a Healthy Child