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Parents, Kids and Safety in the Outdoors

Parents have a lot on their plate when it comes to taking care of young kids. Things like providing them with a good education and teaching them to respect others are really important, but one of their highest priorities for their kids is keeping them safe.

The current spring and upcoming summer seasons will draw kids outside increasingly often, and it can be hard to have all the answers to ensure their safety. This is especially true if you’re taking a family vacation somewhere you’ve never been before or somewhere that involves plenty of physical activity. Here are some great pointers for keeping kids safe (and happy) in the outdoors these next several months:

  1. Know each person’s limits: Even if it’s a new experience your family is planning together, consider what each member can handle. Whether you’re going for a hike, zip lining or trying out another adventure, know that your group will be most impacted by the weakest member — perhaps your youngest child. Rather than seeing this as a bad thing, plan accordingly to avoid the group getting exhausted, grumpy and thinking negatively about the event. When you know everyone’s limits and work with them, everyone can enjoy the time with each other and stay safe as they do.
  2. Prioritize sleep: This one is really important, mostly because it’s easy to overschedule our kids because we tend to overschedule ourselves, which just results in a whole family of sleep-deprived people. No matter how old your kids are, making sure they get enough sleep is essential to a safe day of activity — and they’re especially going to need that sleep if you’re doing a lot of physical movement all day. It’s also a good idea to communicate if you plan to start the day earlier than usual, as it allows your kids to agree well before an early morning wake-up call. Regardless of the specifics, there’s really no way around it: Kids need sleep to feel rested.
  3. Pay attention to their temperature: Kids don’t experience hot and cold exactly the same as adults — they can warm up quickly because they move around a lot but can also cool down quickly due to less body fat — so make sure they are warm or cool enough throughout the day. Ask them periodically if they’re warm enough (in the case of a brisk day, for example), also paying attention to nonverbal cues that may conflict with what they say, such as shivering, a cowered posture or less physical motion. Have them add a layer if a cool wind picks up or take off a layer before a hot or more difficult endeavor. For babies, check their fingers, face or feet for their temperature and add or remove a layer accordingly.
  4. Give them plenty of food and drink: Be prepared to hear the ever popular words, “I’m hungry!” Kids need to eat more frequently than adults (every 1-2 hours), so keep granola bars, sandwiches and other snacks on hand. Also look out for indicators like grumpiness, a slowed pace or little talking, and feed them proactively so they don’t reach a point of extreme fatigue and hunger. The same goes with water: Prompt them every so often to take a drink, getting them in the habit of staying hydrated throughout the day. The biggest thing is to avoid letting kids hit a wall. When they need something, stop right where you are if you have to. It’ll prevent a meltdown and keep everyone happier.
  5. Establish rules and convey them clearly: Whether you’re 5 or 50, unfamiliar environments can prompt people to make mistakes if they don’t understand the hazards or guidelines for the activity. Because children have greater risk of this than adults, define the safe boundaries in the camp, on the trail, etc. so no one wanders off or gets into something dangerous. Older kids can have more freedom, but if they’re still beginners, give them instruction to avoid potential hazards. Encourage older kids to help the younger, and remind them that the rules aren’t meant to take the fun out of things. Rather, explain how rules protect them and that respecting them will allow your family to go on even more adventures together. It’s a teaching moment they can learn from.

We know we can’t completely remove the worry that comes with trying to keep kids safe, but these tips are a great start to a worthwhile time of family memories in the making. Have fun!