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Your family guide to summer health: Tips & checklist

Wednesday, May 24, 2023 2:53 PM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Summer HealthAh, summer.

You bring us festivals and beach days, gardening and bike rides, picnics and fireflies.

You also bring us insect bites, sunburn, poison ivy rashes and heat exhaustion.

For all its good, summer also has its pitfalls, some more serious than others.

Plan now to make this summer fun, safe and memorable for everyone in your family. Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Change up your routine

    Longer, warmer days offer a great opportunity to tweak your usual routine. Kick off the season by penciling in time for outdoor fitness, have dinner outside or take a family walk in the evening.

    One caveat: Make sure you maintain important parts of your kids’ routine, such as regular waking and bedtimes, consistent mealtimes and a balance between daily chores and downtime.

    “Kids thrive on familiar routines. It helps them feel secure,” said Shilpa Shankar, MD, a pediatrician with NorthShore University HealthSystem. “Adding fun new activities to the day is a great idea but be sure to keep things like sleep and mealtimes on a predictable schedule.”

  2. Be screen-free

    Make the most of warm summer days and plan to cut back screen time. Talk to your kids about how much time they spend online and craft a plan that builds in breaks. Set screen-free hours and device-free zones in the home (e.g., no cell phones at the dinner table).

    Bring out the board games and have a family game night. Pick a book to read together as a family and discuss. Schedule time to exercise together.

    Or try combining a show with a hands-on activity. For example, if your child enjoys watching cooking shows, watch a few together and plan a family cooking night based on what you saw.

    Turn off all devices 30 minutes before bedtime, then leave devices in another room to charge when you go to bed.

  3. Cook together – or assign kids to make dinner

    Making dinner together can be fun — and educational! Pre-cookout prep and smart food handling can prevent a lot of problems (such as food poisoning).

    Always wash your hands before/after cooking. Bring a cooler if you’re on a picnic, don’t leave food sitting out for more than an hour, and use a food thermometer to ensure meat is cooked properly. Also, children should be closely supervised around fires and hot barbecues.

  4. Get active

    There are countless ways to get active in the summer, from youth athletic camps to a family bike ride on local trails to exploring a new park every week. Head to the local pool and swim some laps. Better yet, bring the kids and try relay races or water volleyball. Have the kids join you for jump rope or a game of frisbee.

    “Summer is the perfect time to start an exercise routine,” said Diala Alatassi, MD, an internal medicine physician with Edward-Elmhurst Medical Group. “If you form a fitness habit now, that routine will hopefully continue on in the fall and winter months and become a regular part of your day.”

Summer safety checklist

Before you head outside, run through this safety checklist:

  • Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. A heat index at or above 90°F can put your health at risk. Minimize time in the heat, take regular cool-off breaks and stay hydrated! Encourage kids to drink water regularly — even before they say they’re thirsty.
  • Keep skin sunburn-free. Keep yourself and your children slathered in sunscreen — even on cloudy days — to prevent sunburn. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is (at least) SPF 30. Apply it 15-30 minutes before going outdoors, every two hours, and after swimming or sweating. Have your child wear a hat and sunglasses with UV protection, and limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest.
  • Treat skin rashes properly. Summer months can lead to itchy, irritated skin — and sometimes skin reactions and infections. Learn how to identify plants to avoid. Call your doctor if your rash covers your body, comes with a fever, comes on suddenly and spreads quickly, begins to blister, is painful or infected.
  • Protect yourself from bites and stings. Insect bites and stings are common in summer. Unfortunately, some mosquitos and ticks can spread disease (e.g., Zika virus, Lyme disease). Protective clothing and insect repellents are your best line of defense. Check your head and body and your children for ticks after being outdoors. Have an emergency care plan in place if your child has a known allergy.
  • Practice water safety. Drowning is the number two cause of accidental death in children ages 15 and under. Always keep your eyes on your child while they’re in and around water. Use proper safety devices and designate an adult pool watcher during parties. Teach children to always ask permission before going in the water. One way to tell if someone is drowning is to ask them “are you okay?” If they can’t answer or if they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.
  • Gear up to prevent injuries. Innocent fun can sometimes result in sprains, strains and broken bones. Make sure kids wear protective gear, including a proper-fitting helmet, when riding a bike or scooter, skating and skateboarding. Be extra careful with trampolines and bounce houses.
  • Know how to handle a concussion. A concussion may result from something as simple as falling off a bike and hitting your head on the sidewalk. Know how to recognize, respond to, and prevent a concussion. All concussions are serious, so never ignore a head injury, no matter how minor.
  • Leave the big fireworks to the pros. It’s hard (and would be a little depressing) to have summer without fireworks. But even seemingly harmless drug store fireworks, such as poppers and sparklers can cause serious injuries if they’re not used safely. Get tips to avoid injury.


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