Northern Michigan offers many options for summer fun. From a day at the beach to biking area trails, families have countless activities to choose from. Make all the memories you can during your northern Michigan summer but keep it safe by following these helpful reminders.
Swimming and playing at the beach are some of the best ways to enjoy northern Michigan in the summer. In an area surrounded by bays and dotted with inland lakes, being safe around water is essential, especially for little ones who may not know how to swim yet. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to four, so knowing and following water safety guidelines is one of the most important things you can do as a parent.
Wear a life vest. Don’t skip this most important life-saving step! Be sure your child’s life vest fits properly; it should not fit loosely and all belts and straps should be buckled. Inflatable swim toys and swim “floaties” can seem fun but they are not recommended, because they can create a false sense of security for the child, encouraging them to take risks like going into deeper water. If your child cannot swim yet, life jackets are best. If you plan to go boating, remember to have enough life vests, of the correct size, for each occupant.
Pay attention. When near water, keep the focus on your small children. Drowning can occur in just inches of water, so never leave kids unattended. When you’re with a group of your grown-up friends enjoying the beach, it’s very easy to get caught up in conversations and assume that someone else – one of the other parents – is watching the children. It is very important that an adult in charge stays focused on the kids in the water. Take turns if you need to. Use the buddy system and keep the kids together in a group; it is easier to watch kids when they are not spread across the beach.
Other tips for enjoying water include going in feet first (not diving) and knowing the risks of rip currents and fast-moving streams. Rip currents can happen in large bodies of water as well as near piers and sandbars. Remember these two things about rip currents: remain calm if in one, and swim parallel to shore to get out of one.
Choose safe locations. Swimming in a location with a lifeguards adds a layer of protection for your child, but parents are still the first line of defense. Most beaches in northern Michigan are not guarded but a few options are. For example, Bryant Park in Traverse City does have lifeguards during the peak summer months. If possible, check ahead of time to see if your favorite swimming spot has life guards and consider a different spot if it is not.
If you or someone you know has a pool, make sure it has rescue equipment and a fence with a locking gate to keep to prevent little ones from wandering in when you aren’t looking.
HEAT AND SUN SAFETY
Stay Hydrated. While you’re outside enjoying the fresh water with your kids, don’t forget to make sure that everyone is drinking enough water. Proper hydration is important when the heat rises, especially for infants and young children, who cannot regulate their body temperatures like adults.
Plan your activity levels. Toddlers and preschoolers like to play hard, but make sure they are taking breaks from strenuous activity every 20 minutes. Watch out for overheating or overly strenuous activity, especially on warmer days. Stay in the shade if possible on hot days. Don’t overdue outdoor activities in the heat, but start slow and for shorter durations, especially with younger kids.
Dress Your Kids Appropriately. Lightweight and light-colored clothing is best.
Protect them from the Sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen! Choose one with a sunscreen protection factor (SPF) of at least a 30, with UVA and UVB coverage. Remember to reapply often, and cover the areas that tend to be forgotten, like ears, tops of the feet and the backs of knees. Wear hats with brims. Your children’s eyes need protection too; it gets bright by reflecting surfaces like sand and water, so if you’re wearing sunglasses your kids should be too. Start them wearing sunglasses after six months of age. As with sunscreen, look for UVA and UVB protection.
Never leave your kids in the car. A closed car will heat up very quickly, even when the outdoor temperature does not seem very hot. Even the most attentive parent can be distracted by phone calls, loud music or another child. Always check the backseat to make sure all your kids are out when you reach your destination. (A good tip is to put needed items in the backseat, so you remember to check it often.) Lock the car as soon as you leave so your kids can’t get back inside. (The same goes for pets!)
Know the signs of heat stress or over-exertion. The American Academy of Pediatricians notes that children may be at higher risk for heat-related illnesses. If your child seems to be getting overheated, take him or her to a cool place and provide water to drink. Warning signs of heat related illnesses include headaches, muscle cramps, tiredness, dizziness, nausea or other unusual behaviors. If you are concerned, call your pediatrician’s office. If you notice severe symptoms, including confusion, unresponsiveness or seizures, call 911 immediately.
One of the best ways to enjoy the scenery of northern Michigan is on a bike and new parents are often excited to bring baby on this fresh-air adventure. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children start in a bike trailer, towed by an adult. They should be capable of sitting up on their own and of supporting their heads while wearing a lightweight helmet, that meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As they grow and start riding on their own, remember to start them with a bike helmet; it is a habit they will need for their whole life.
INSECTS AND WILDLIFE
Insect Repellent – If you are going to be spending time outdoors with your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends bug spray containing DEET (10-30%) for any child over two months of age. The AAP does not recommend wearing repellent for children under two months of age. Wearing insect repellent can help protect your children from diseases that are commonly transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks including the West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease, which are known to exist in Michigan.
Other Animals – Spending time outdoors can bring you into contact with wildlife, from deer in the woods to swans near shore. Enjoy them from afar and respect their space by not approaching them. If your child is ever bitten by an animal, call your child’s health care provider.
With so much to do, see and enjoy during summertime, keeping in mind a few simple safety tips will keep you focused on the best part of family time – having fun!