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Taking the Kids: Essential summer travel safety hacks

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Who is the designated water watcher?

Huh? According to the American Red Cross, the water watcher is the adult (or teen 16 and older) who ideally knows CPR, and is watching the kids in the water – not reading, texting, chatting or sipping a frothy cocktail at the same time. That said, they also need a working phone in case they need to call 9-1-1 and some sort of flotation device that can be used in a rescue.

Not necessary, you think? There are lifeguards on duty. You are on vacation and want to relax.

“It is important to remember sometimes you need to be MORE vigilant (on vacation) since you may be in less familiar surroundings. So, especially if you have children who are school age or younger, and if there is a swimming pool or body of water nearby – like a beach – parents and caregivers need to be especially careful,” said Dr. Lois Lee, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers 12 Tips for Beach Safety: Safe Fun in the Sun, Sand and Sea.

It only takes a moment for a child to drown. According to the American Red Cross, drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages one to four than any other cause, except birth defects. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Dr. Lee notes that the most common injuries seen in the ER related to summer vacations are drownings and non-fatal drownings.

Most children younger than five drown in pools owned by family or friends where there won’t be lifeguards. Older children are more likely to drown in lakes or ponds where there might not be lifeguards, either. Sixty-four percent of African American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children have few to no swimming skills, according to the American Red Cross.

Consider that on cruise ships or hotels there may not be lifeguards at the pools and even if there are, they can’t keep their eyes on all the kids every minute. In a crowded pool, hot tub, or lazy river, it’s all too easy for a child to slip under the surface without anyone noticing.

The American Red Cross urges that we all pay attention to the Circle of Drowning Prevention. That includes everyone always swimming with a buddy.

Does everyone in your family know basic water safety skills? The American Red Cross has Longfellow whose WHALE Tales can help teach young children important water safety topics with content designed for kids kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grade with videos and activity sheets. Check out this video from the American Academy of Pediatrics on how to keep young children safe near water.

Children, inexperienced swimmers, and boaters should all wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

Will there be a lifeguard at a pool party you are attending or hosting? (Local teens working as lifeguards would be glad to make some extra money! )

“Whether you’re at the beach or a pool, these precautions can prevent injuries and drowning,” said Dr. Lee.

Older kids should ask permission before heading into the water, always with a buddy. An adult should keep a hand on younger kids when they are in the water.


“Also, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen,” said Dr. Lee. “You’ll want to apply every two hours at minimum or more often after children come out of the water.”

Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen labeled SPF 30 or higher. Mineral sunscreens can be especially effective. Put sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before hitting the beach, using the equivalent of a full shot glass to protect your child. (Don't forget the tops of feet, hands, and ears.) Reapply every two hours or right after your child leaves the water, since no sunscreen is 100 percent waterproof or sweat-proof.

Sunscreen often causes skin reactions in babies under six months old, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, so it's best to protect little ones with a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs, as well as shade.

Rash guards and long-sleeved tops and pants offer extra protection for toddlers and older kids. Protect little feet with water shoes or sneakers on hot sand and playgrounds.

Make sure the kids – and you – drink plenty of water in the heat. You don’t want anyone getting dehydrated and ill.

Have you checked the car? Before heading out on a road trip to the beach or lake, make sure the car is in good working order and that the safety seats are installed correctly. Check out these car seat tips from Safe Kids Worldwide, including where you can find a Safe Kids car seat check-up event.

Just like you wouldn’t consider getting in the car with your baby or toddler without a safety seat, consider buying a seat on a flight so you can use a safety seat approved for air travel. Just in the past month, passengers were seriously injured, and one man died after Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways flights hit severe turbulence. Late last year, a toddler was among the 36 people injured on a Hawaiian Airlines flight.

Everyone from the FAA to the Association of Flight Attendants and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies and toddlers be restrained in a safety seat approved for air travel. (Check for a sticker or label on yours. Booster seats do not have FAA approval.)

“We’ve seen airplanes go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second,” Sara Nelson, international president of AFA, told the Washington Post following the FAA airline safety summit this past March. “The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It’s just physically impossible.”


(For more Taking the Kids, visit and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The fourth edition of The Kid’s Guide to New York City and the third edition of The Kid’s Guide to Washington D.C. are the latest in a series of 14 books for kid travelers published by Eileen.)

©2024 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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