Saturday 17 March 2018

Staying safe in the sun

Summertime, of course, means fun - but it also brings a new set of challenges. Dearbhala Cox-Giffin has some suggestions for keeping children happy and safe

Picture posed
Picture posed

The sun is peeping out, summer is here and the only predictable thing about the Irish weather is that it's going to be … unpredictable. There will undoubtedly be a few warm sunny days over the coming months, and with many families spending time together outside, it's important that children stay safe in the sun whilst still having lots of fun outdoors.

We all know that too much of the sun's rays can be harmful to skin, potentially leading to premature skin ageing, eye damage and skin cancers but the right balance and a controlled amount of exposure has health benefits in helping to create vitamin D - which is essential for the absorption of calcium, strengthening children's bones and, of course, it is a mood enhancer for everyone.

According to the World Health Organisation, getting anywhere from five to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands and face two to three times a week is enough to enjoy the vitamin D-boosting benefits of sun but with young children, their time in the sun should be monitored with plenty of time in the shade and lots of fluids.

Make a day of it

Enjoy the longer summer days and bright evenings, and take a trip to the beach or to the park - and pack a picnic or a bag of healthy snacks as being ­prepared for those tummy rumbles will make your trip even more enjoyable.

Having a few pots of their favourite snacks, and sticks of fruit and veggies may help to extend the trip outdoors - a lovely novelty for everyone in the family, especially for children after staying indoors throughout the winter months. Make sure you also pack a rug or a fleece blanket so that you can all gather around to enjoy some refreshment and a rest.

You can also have a barbecue or bring the dinner out into your own back garden and enjoy a 'garden picnic'. Have your child help lay out the blanket and choose where everyone will sit for their tea. These tasks support your child to become independent, more confident and make mealtimes an enjoyable family activity.

Grab the factor

These days it almost goes without saying that it is vital to apply a good quality, high-protection sunscreen to your children's skin to protect them from the harsh rays of the sun. Easier said than done, we know, when dealing with a wriggling, giggling little tot, so try to apply the sunscreen before going outside, and encourage your child to help rub it in on their arms and legs so that they are involved in the process. Water resistant lotions are always a good idea when heading to the beach or pool, and make sure that it is reapplied regularly or, for those very hot days, pop a light cotton T-shirt on your child - or there are a range of UV sun protection clothing available on the market with a built-in SPF50 for climbing temperatures on beach days.

Keep children hydrated

Children are much more prone to dehydration than adults because their bodies don't cool down as efficiently, and in the warm weather they will need plenty of water to keep them hydrated. Remember to take water breaks about every 20 minutes, ideally in a shady spot to keep their fluid levels up. Make sure you have several bottles of water with good spill-proof lids available, especially if you are packing a picnic bag as you don't want them to leak on your day out. It also helps if you pack your cool bag with a couple of frozen bottles which will keep the other bottles chilled as well.

Travelling by car in the sunshine

Plan around naptimes: If your baby or toddler has a routine naptime, try to take advantage by ideally scheduling your journey when they are likely to sleep. This can make the travel time easier and more comfortable for everyone.

When you are travelling by car, occasional stopping to stretch the legs, have a trip to the toilet and some fresh air can help break up the journey for both parents and children.

Beat the heat: A car can quickly heat up in the midday sun, especially if you have parked the car whilst on your beach adventure and shade is difficult to find. Remember to roll down all the windows before entering the car, allowing the inside temperature to drop.

Check to make sure the plastic or metal buckles of your child's car seats aren't too hot to touch, or even wrap a blanket around the seat attachments to make sure your little one's arms and legs don't brush against a very hot seatbelt.

Relax in the shade

Find a tree that provides shade in the park or use an umbrella at the beach, so that your child has the chance to take a few minutes to cool down if they have been in the sun for a prolonged period of time. Avoid direct sunlight between 12-3pm when the sun is at its hottest. Playing in a paddling pool is a good way of keeping babies and children cool. Keep the pool in the shade during very hot weather and supervise the children carefully at all times.

Hat's on

We're all at risk of developing heatstroke if our heads are uncovered. Children are no different, particularly those with very fair or fine hair, and especially babies with no hair at all.

A hat is vital in the sun, so find one that doesn't fall or blow off easily in the wind (elasticated straps or safe ties for babies can help with exploring hands) and teach your older children always to wear them so that they are protected from the sun.

Toy Storage

Create travel pouches that you can hang on the back of the front seats to store all the children's travel friendly toys; these are handy not only for distraction but also for ease of access. Remember that the bag of tricks works well here too, anything new and different is a novelty that will most likely hold their interest.

Have provisions for those just-in-case moments

Many parents pack a mini first-aid kit in their car to deal with life's little bumps and bruises, and for sunny days this should include infant paracetamol in case of headache, and calamine lotion to calm mild cases of heat rash. If you are concerned your child may be suffering from heatstroke, seek immediate medical advice.

Above all, enjoy the time together as a family in the great summer weather and have fun!

Dearbhala Cox-Giffin is director of childcare at

Giraffe Childcare.


Helpful tips to stay cool at night-time

● Run them a cool bath before bedtime which will help your child to cool down on a muggy evening

● Keep your child's bedroom cool during the day by closing blinds or curtains

● Keep nightwear and bedclothes to a minimum. If your baby kicks or pushes off the covers during the night, consider putting them in just a nappy with a single, well-secured sheet that won't work loose and cover their face or get entangled during the night

● A nursery thermometer will help you monitor the temperature of your baby's room. Your baby will sleep most comfortably when their room is between 16°C (61°F) and 20°C (68°F)

Irish Independent

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