It’s hard to believe that the first quarter of 2019 is almost over and it’s holiday time again! For many, that means loading up the car or throwing suitcases on the plane, and heading off to a favourite beach destination. There is no better holiday than a beach holiday for keeping children entertained. Hours of playing in the sand, building castles, wading through waves and rockpools and enjoying the sunshine. But all of these activities pose some risks, so it’s better to arrive prepared.
In the sun
The rise in the incidence of skin cancers over recent decades is strongly related to increasingly popular outdoor activities and recreational exposure. Overexposure to sunlight is widely accepted as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system. Experts believe that four out of five cases of skin cancer could be prevented, as UV damage is mostly avoidable.
For starters, the best way to avoid sun exposure is simply to stay out of the sun at the times of the day when UV exposure is strongest (between 10am and 3pm). Rather head to the beach in the early morning or late afternoon. All exposed body parts should be covered liberally with a high SPF sunscreen and reapplied frequently. Sun-protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat are also strongly advised.
The other danger the sun carries is dehydration and heat exhaustion, or heatstroke.
Dehydration is caused by insufficient fluid intake coupled with increased losses due to sweating in the hot sun. It is imperative that each member of the family has their own water bottle and drinks from it frequently. Alcohol and coffee can also be dehydrating, so those are a no-no for the adults too.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include confusion and dizziness, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, excessive sweating (or lack of sweating), pale skin, swelling, rapid heartbeat and confusion. If you (or someone you’re with) display any of these symptoms, get out of the sun and heat, remove any unnecessary clothing, drink plenty of water, and take a cool (NOT icy) bath or shower. If symptoms are more severe — swelling, confusion, painful and blistering sunburns — it’s best to seek medical attention.
In the sand
Hidden ‘treasures’ in the sand can be dangerous. Broken glass, cigarette butts, and pieces of tin and plastic can pose a risk, particularly with smaller children who like to put everything into their mouths. Make sure you check the area where you are sitting and sift through the sand before your child starts building sand castles. Keep a small first aid kit in your beach bag for cuts and scrapes. Explain to your little ones that they have to be on the lookout and call you if they find any objects besides seashells.
Closer to the water is also the hazard of washed-up sea creatures. Jellyfish and bluebottles may wash onto the shore and deliver a nasty sting if stepped on. Teach your children how to identify and avoid them. Vinegar usually works well to neutralise the sting, so consider keeping a sachet in your first aid kit.
In the water
It goes without saying that drowning is a major concern any time children are near a body of water. There are several ways to reduce the risk of a tragic water accident. Always swim in a designated area with lifeguards present. Even a child who seems relatively strong in a swimming pool could encounter difficulties in the ocean with the waves and the currents.
Rather than opting to watch your older child swim, get in with them. Put your children in brightly coloured swimsuits so that they are more visible in the water. Tell your children that they should never turn their backs on the ocean, as they may not spot a large wave coming to knock them over. Never swim in the dark, and never swim while intoxicated.
“Hidden ‘treasures’ in the sand can be dangerous. Broken glass, cigarette butts, and pieces of tin and plastic can pose a risk, particularly with smaller children who like to put everything into their mouths.”
It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child. On crowded beaches with multiple visual and auditory distractions, this is easier than you might imagine. Try to have eyes on your children at all times (sorry, no napping or reading time for tired parents) and have a contingency plan in case your child should wander off. Again, dressing them in distinctive clothing makes them easier to spot. For younger children, write your phone number somewhere on them, and for older children, arrange a designated meeting spot.
Remember, each beach has different rules, restrictions and hazards. Be sure to check the signage and ask a lifeguard if you’re unsure.