Raise your summer safety consciousness Travel: More children are hurt during the hot months than at any other time of year. Families need to stay alert to prevent injuries.

Taking the Kids

June 09, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Reggie was hysterical. Tears streamed down her face. She'd tumbled into a cactus, the first she'd ever encountered, and painfully sharp needles were stuck in her ankle. Unfortunately, this time mom couldn't make it better.

I'd left our well-stocked first-aid kit back in our hotel room, 20 miles away. The kids were incredulous that I'd been so dumb. So were the couple who happened by and kindly lent us theirs. In 10 minutes, thanks to a pair of tweezers, some antiseptic cream and bandages, Reggie was back climbing rocks. The day was salvaged.

That incident, of course, has become part of our family's vacation lore. I'm just glad her injuries weren't more serious.

Every day, more than 38,000 kids are hurt badly enough to require medical treatment -- 14 million a year. For kids 14 and under, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death -- 6,700 a year. Another 50,000 are permanently disabled.

Summer most dangerous

More of those tragedies occur in the summer than any other time of the year, reports the National Safe Kids Campaign, the nonprofit national coalition that works to prevent childhood injury.

Just when we want to relax and let down our guard on vacation, we need to be more vigilant, whether we're lounging at the beach, playing in the pool, driving cross-country, sightseeing or camping at some pristine spot.

"People tend to let down their guard in unfamiliar situations and not pay attention to detail," observes pediatrician Mark Widome, a nationally known pediatrics safety expert and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Child and Adolescent Health.

That's why I figured that as we get ready to hit the vacation trail, there was no better time to talk vacation safety.

For one thing, more of us than ever are going to be driving, boating, swimming, biking and playing. The American Automobile Association says despite high gas prices, it's going to be a record travel season for families, with 125 million parents and kids taking to the roads and skies.

"But parental supervision can't go on vacation," warns Safe Kids program director Angela Mickalide, herself the mother of two young children.

Safety tips

So before you lock the door and pull out of the driveway for the beach or the mountains or the theme park, here's a Summer Safety Primer to make sure you spend your vacation having fun, not wringing your hands in some emergency room in a strange town.

Car smarts: It may be the law that young children ride in safety seats, but many don't. Even more don't use the seats they have correctly, though the National Safe Kids Campaign reports the correct use of safety seats reduces the risk of death in an accident by more than 70 percent. Review the directions for the seat, especially if you plan to use it in an unfamiliar rental car.

Remember that infant seats should always face the rear. Never place an infant in a rear-facing safety seat in a front seat that is equipped with an air bag. The air bag could strike the back of the safety seat and injure the baby. And whenever possible, Widome suggests, buckle older children in a shoulder belt.

Plane smarts: Infants are the only "cargo" on planes that is not required to be tied down, the national Association of Flight Attendants notes. Babies have been injured by flying out of parents' laps during unanticipated turbulence.

Consider purchasing a seat for your baby or, at the least, bring your safety seat (make sure it is FAA approved) to the gate. If an empty seat is available, airline personnel will let you use it free. If the plane is full, they can check the seat at the gate.

(For a new "Kids in Flight" brochure, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Association of Flight Attendants at 1625 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-2212).

Water smarts: Children can drown in just seconds. And for every child who drowns, four others are hospitalized after nearly drowning. Never take your eyes off the kids when they're swimming.

"When it comes to drowning, it's all or nothing," says Widome. "You can't afford a lapse in supervision. And never overestimate older kids' swimming ability. Insist they swim in pairs and make sure they take frequent rest breaks."

Just as important, make sure they never dive if the don't know the water depth. The American Association of Neurosurgeons suggests that kids learn to go "feet first, first time."

Whenever heading out in a boat, no matter how big or small, make sure the kids are wearing Coast Guard-approved safety vests. Widome adds there should be one adult swimmer per nonswimming child.

And don't forget to slather on the sunscreen and drink plenty of liquids.

Crowd smarts: Teach the older kids to carry their money in a front pocket or belly pack. Give them a card with the address and phone number where you are staying.

A cellular phone or beeper is a great way to keep in touch at a large resort or theme park.

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