SILVER SPRING, Md, July 6, 2013 – Every year many families make the trek to their closest beach for some fun and relaxation. But beaches can also pose a threat to the health and safety of young children. Follow these tips to ensure that your family vacation stays fun for everyone.
Dehydration is a common problem that affects beach-goers and young children who are distracted with play in particular. When the mercury has climbed to sweltering levels and the sun is beating down, it is easy for dehydration to set in. You sweat, and if you do not replenish your fluids at an equal rate, you will become dehydrated. The problem is that children can become dehydrated faster than adults because of their small body weights, which results in a high turnover rate of fluids. Parents should try to set times when children are required to take a short break from the sun, surf, and sand, and sit under an umbrella or in another shaded space while drinking water. Also, you should learn the signs and symptoms of dehydration and call it a day if you notice your little one displaying them.
Supervise your children at all times
And by this, I mean you. Do not assume that the lifeguard will be watching your child specifically as he plays at the water’s edge. They are there to scan the water for potentially life-threatening situations for everyone on the beach in their section. They are not baby sitters.
Also, if you are with a group of family or friends, do not assume that someone else is watching your child. Beaches are where people go to relax, and it is too easy for someone to get caught up in a conversation or in dealing with a situation with their own child, when in a split second your fearless toddler can decide to chase a seagull down the beach away from your group or decided to chase older siblings or cousin down into the water.
Take a mid-day brake
Most toddlers still need a nap. With the most intense summer sun usually between 10am and 3pm, taking a break from the beach mid-day for lunch and a nap is a good way to reduce sun exposure as well as give your little one a chance to recharge his batteries. Eating lunch off the beach also reduces the amount of sand that will wind up in your toddler’s food and mouth, and give him a chance to get some fluids in his body when he is not sweating them immediately back out.
Sunscreen is extremely important while at the beach. The sun and water both reflect the sun’s light, thus increasing the amount exposure your skin receives. Make sure you apply sunscreen in your apartment, condo, or hotel room before you head to the beach to give it time to soak into your skin. It takes at least 20 minutes from the time of application to be effective. Also make sure you reapply throughout the day. Sunscreen stops protecting your skin, and excessive sweat and time in the water can reduce the time further. Check the specifications for your sunscreen to know when to reapply. Common advice is to reapply every two hours. Read my earlier article on sunscreen and sun protection for more information on types of sunscreen and sun safety.
Do not go barefoot
While part of the fun of going to the beach is feeling the sand between your toes, if you have ever spent a day on the beach, you know exactly how hot the sand can get after hours of the sun beating down on it. The sand can be hot enough to cause burns on the soles of feet, and the longer you walk across hot sand the more sever the burn can be. Now, consider that children’s feet, especially those of toddlers, are more sensitive than those of adults and have not yet developed the protective calluses that can mitigate some of the damage to the bottoms of our feet. For this reason, find a beach appropriate shoes that will keep hot sand away from your child’s feet as you are walking to your spot on the beach. It is okay to let a little one play barefoot in the sand after you have established some shade and ensured there is nothing in the immediate area that could cut sensitive little tootsies, like broken bottles or broken shells. If you feel more comfortable having your child shod the entire time they are on the beach, try a shoe that is designed for water, that way you do not have to worry about the transition from sand to surf.
Practice water safety
Toddlers do not know how to swim. Even those who have been taking baby swim classes do not have the coordination and skill set necessary to swim in calm water, let alone the surf and currents in an ocean. That being said, it does not mean that your toddler can not have a little water fun at the beach. Find age appropriate water activities for you toddlers. Holding a parent’s hand and jumping waves as they ripple up the beach is a long time favorite. Or maybe dig a small hole near the water’s edge where the sand is a little damp and fill it with sea water to make your own tide pool. Be careful to note the direction of the tide. If the tide is coming in, you may find your little tots being knocked over by incoming waves before they have grown bored with their little water hole. Do not let little ones follow older children into the water. The waves can easily knock them off balance and force them underwater.
While there are hazards at the beach, do not let worry spoil your fun. Taking these simple precautions will help you and your family have an enjoyable and memorable vacation.
Brighid Moret also writes children’s picture book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands. Read more about parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times. To receive updates when new columns post on, follow Brighid on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.