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Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)
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Child Development & Parenting: Early (3-7)
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Outdoor Safety

Angela Oswalt, MSW

Playing outside on a sunny day or grilling out on the family barbecue on a warm night are both wonderful family experiences that young children will likely enjoy. However, as with all other situations, caregivers should follow certain safety precautions to help ensure that everyone stays happy and healthy. Backyard play areas and other segments of the home property need to be monitored and outfitted for safety. However, unlike the case of indoor rooms, it's not always possible to quarantine an area outside of the house so as to keep all harmful things out and all babies in. Therefore, it's especially important for babies and toddlers to be constantly monitored and directly supervised while playing outdoors. Elementary-aged children should also be closely watched to also ensure their safe play.

babies on blanketSome spaces in the back yard, such as tool sheds, garages, or barns used to store tools and chemicals can and should be closed off and locked away from young children's reach. Even though these rooms may be locked, caregivers should make certain that hazardous items are out of reach. Even if a child cannot enter this space alone, they will still want to follow Mommy and Daddy and help them do "grown up" things when such spaces are opened. Accidents can occur quickly where children are involved.

Poisonous chemicals such as motor oil, antifreeze, pesticides, fertilizers, gasoline and kerosene should be stored in their original containers and with their original labels. For maximum safety, such chemicals should be locked up even within the locked shed or garage. Electric tools should be inspected regularly to make sure that they are in working order and do not have fraying electrical cords or broken plugs. Such tools should be unplugged and stored out of reach when not in use. Tools should not be used at all while young children are present. As well, young children, or pets, should not be allowed to play in a garage area when adults are draining toxic fluids from a car or other engine (e.g., changing the oil or antifreeze). Objects that could create an entrapment hazard such as old refrigerators should be removed from the property as soon as possible. If old refrigerators must be stored for any length of time, they should be stored with their doors removed.

Caregivers should also take extra precautions when doing lawn work around children. Babies and young children should not be outside while an adult mows the lawn, for example. Children should never ride on the lawnmower with an adult. While doing other yard work activities, caregivers should make sure that children are not in the way of any flying debris, do not try to operate or play with dangerous tools (electrical or mechanical), and cannot access any poisons. Adults also need to take precautions with the family barbecue, grill or outdoor fireplace/bonfire. Young children should be constantly monitored when near these heat sources, and should not be allowed to get too close to them.

Whenever children, especially babies and young children, play outside, caregivers should take extra precautions to protect their skin from sun damage. The effects of overexposure to the sun can lead to painful sun burns in children's younger years, and to increased lifetime risk for skin cancer as teens or adults. Even a few bad burns can increase the risk for skin cancer. Because of the fragile nature of their skin, infants six months old and younger should not use a sun block cream with an SPF of above 3 because the chemicals can be absorbed and be poisonous. Instead of using powerful sunscreens then, caregivers should keep babies out of the sun whenever practical. When babies are kept in the sun, they should be shaded as well as possible, and covered with clothing and hats that protect their sensitive skin and scalps.

All children six months old and older should use a sunblock of at least 15 SPF, applied regularly as directions indicate, when they are going to be outside in the sun for any significant period. On especially hot days, caregivers should make sure kids take breaks in the shade or house to cool off and rest. In order to lessen the risk of heat exhaustion, children should be encouraged to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Consumption of dehydrating drinks (such as soda pop) should be discouraged.