School is almost done and summer break is right around the corner. For many kids, this is the most anticipated time of the year: no more homework or tests or rigorous schedules. But for parents, more free time for their children calls for added precautions to ensure their kids are healthy, happy, and safe through the summer.
Here are some things to remember, and a few slight lifestyle changes, that could make a big difference for your child’s health:
Limit screen time. We’re all guilty of scrolling through emails or social-media channels and tuning out the world around us. However, setting a good example for our kids by putting our devices down is crucial for their health and well-being. It may seem like a challenge when you’re trying to entertain your kids this summer, but limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – whether that’s playing on the computer or watching a movie – is the best approach and completely manageable. There are so many alternatives to screens, and children can greatly benefit from getting outside, playing with others, and using their imaginations.
Get outside and be active. Whether your kids are hanging at the pool, attending camp, or simply playing in the yard, there are so many ways they can be active and enjoy the summer. To keep exercise fun and promote a lifelong passion for physical activity, engage your kids in activities they want to participate in and include them in your interests.
(An example: From a young age, my daughter was interested in running, and she wanted to fit in with the older kids she saw running a 5K. We signed her up to run a children’s race, which led to a lifelong passion, and she’s now competing at a collegiate level for Cornell University.)
Swim safely. For kids who are interested in water-related activities, it’s important that adult supervision is there always, no matter their age. Any amount of water, even paddling pools, can be dangerous, and it’s important you don’t rely on or expect someone else to be watching your kids. Younger children shouldn’t be more than an arm’s distance away from you when in or around the water. Use appropriate flotation devices – this doesn’t mean a giant inflatable swan or small arm floaties.
Water activities can bring a lot of joy, but they can also bring unexpected heartbreak, so it’s important to be vigilant when poolside. Have a plan for watching your children even if just visiting a friend who happens to have a pool in the backyard. Kids are curious and will want to check out the pool while you are, perhaps, having a conversation and distracted.
Proper sun protection. It’s never too early to prevent sun damage and teach kids about sun safety, as the precautions you take at a young age can protect you from problems that can develop years later. Simple things such as insisting they wear a hat and sunglasses while consistently applying SPF sunscreen will protect children from any nasty burns and can mitigate the risk of skin cancer in the future. This is especially important for those of you who may spend summers or weekends at the Shore, as recent data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found that skin cancer is most common on the East Coast.
Mindful snacking. After a day out in the sun, kids will come running inside looking to snack. One easy way to prevent mindless eating is by making healthy snack packs in advance. This is also a great opportunity to involve kids in food preparation and to teach them the importance of a well-balanced diet. It will give them a sense of ownership and help them develop a skill set they can use for the rest of their lives.
Doctor’s blessing. As always, it’s best to check with your pediatrician before engaging your child in any physical activity if they have special needs or chronic conditions. If air quality is poor or if temperatures are exceptionally high, try to limit time outside, come up with creative ways to be active indoors, and be sure they’re staying hydrated.