When school’s out, children play, teens hang out, and accidents happen. Knowing how to minimize the risk of injury and what to do when mishaps occur can save your child’s summer—and yours, too. “A lot of injuries are preventable, but kids are kids. Little ones need to be watched. And older kids need to be reminded regularly of how to stay safe,” says Karen N. Goodman, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor at NYU Langone Health.
So, what do parents and caregivers need to know about keeping their kids safe during the summer break? Our pediatric experts share their best tips for avoiding accidents at the pool, on the playground, and around the neighborhood.
Be a Water Watcher
Even if you think your child can swim, never let your guard down around water. Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of unintentional injury–related death in children 5 to 14. “It’s silent, and it can happen in a matter of minutes,” cautions Sara Siddiqui, MD, a pediatrician at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone and NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group on Long Island. “My number-one recommendation: get your child swim lessons.”
Whether at the pool or the beach, a responsible adult ought to be watching at all times—not reading, texting, or counting on the lifeguard to intervene. If you’re in the water with a young or weak swimmer, “make sure they’re in arm’s reach,” Dr. Siddiqui adds. Not even a kiddie pool should be left unattended.
While some injuries are more severe than others, not every tumble or scrape requires a trip to the emergency department. For children 5 and older, schedule a video visit with our Virtual Urgent Care service. If your child is experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.
“Kids can flip out of floaties and have their heads under water in a flash,” Dr. Siddiqui points out. And opt for a properly sized and fitted life jacket over floaties, water wings, inner tubes, or noodles.
Older children or teens will start venturing to the pool or beach with their friends. Talk to them about water safety: They should never swim alone or after drinking alcohol. If there are red flags at the beach, don’t swim at all: Red means there’s no lifeguard on duty or the water is not safe because of rip currents. Rip currents are powerful channels of water that are responsible for 80 percent of beach rescues. So teach your teens to heed those red flags and only enter the water when the beaches are open.
Use Playground Equipment as Intended
Falls from monkey bars, swings, and slides make up the majority of playground equipment–related injuries. A lot of times, these accidents are the result of misuse. “Kids are horsing around, doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” Dr. Goodman observes. Scaling the outer walls of an enclosed slide, for example, is dangerous and increases the risk of falling.
“One of the most common injuries we see is called a both-bones fracture, which is a fracture of the two bones in the forearm,” Dr. Goodman says. This happens when children use an outstretched arm to break their fall. Avoiding playgrounds with hard surfaces may help reduce the risk of injury, she adds.
Another potential hazard for young children: riding the slide on a parent’s lap. As Dr. Siddiqui explains, “a child’s leg can get caught up, twisting and fracturing the long bone.” Let kids slide alone, and keep them on age-appropriate playground equipment.
Instill a Helmet Habit
How do you get a child or teen to wear a helmet when they’re on wheels? First, wear one yourself. And remind your kids that top-level professionals, like cyclists, wear helmets when they’re competing in their sport. The message to kids should be “if you’re going to do it like a pro, do it right and wear a helmet,” says Ethan S. Wiener, MD, director of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine.
If that’s not enough reason, share this common sense from Dr. Weiner: “You fall and hurt your arm, you come to the emergency department, and we fix it. But you don’t get to choose what part of your body hits the ground first,” he says. “When you hit your head, we can’t fix it like you can a broken bone.” Among children in the United States ages 12 to 17, more than 1 in 10 has had symptoms of a concussion or brain injury.
By law, kids 12 and under may ride bikes on New York City sidewalks. Older kids who don’t have that option might want to stick to the city’s protected bike lanes as much as possible. Before your child heads out, do a bike check. Make sure the tires have proper air pressure, and the breaks, chains, and levers are working properly.
And if there are skaters or skateboarders in your family, knee pads and elbow pads provide an extra layer of protection.
Be Vigilant Around Fireworks and Open Flames
Did you know that sparklers can burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit? That makes them simply too dangerous for young children to handle. All types of fireworks put kids at risk for severe injury, Dr. Goodman adds. “You have to think about fingers, you have to think about eyes, you have to think about burns.”
Firepit injuries are also on the rise, mostly affecting children under the age of 5. Never leave a child unattended around an open flame or near a hot grill, and teach them never to play with lighters or matches.
For minor burns, NYU Langone’s Virtual Urgent Care can help parents with first-aid tips. Still, no parent wants their family picnic to morph into the scene of an accident because a child stepped on stray embers, or worse. “Kids walk around barefoot all summer, so you have to be careful,” she says.