Summer is here and for many children, that means it’s time for camp. Summer camp, whether it is day camp or sleep-away, is an exciting and happy time that creates lifelong memories. As with all new experiences, however, summer camp can be a time of anxiety as well (especially for us parents). Here are some tips to help keep your child safe at camp to insure those lifelong memories are happy ones!
- Beware of the sun
- The intense heat and humidity of the summer can be dangerous. When we sweat, our bodies are losing water so it’s important that children drink plenty of fluids, even if they aren’t thirsty. This is particularly important for children playing sports or games that involve running or other physical activity. Children should carry a water bottle (or two) at all times.
- Sunscreen is a must! The sun is most intense between 10AM and 4PM, but it’s best to make a habit of applying sunscreen when dressing in the morning. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply at least every two hours and every time the child dries off after swimming.
- Teach your child the signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body heats up faster than it can cool down. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling overheated, and weakness. Heat exhaustion can escalate rapidly. If your child begins to feel ill, he should take a rest indoors or in the shade and the camp nurse should be notified.
- Check for ticks – Lyme disease is spread by tiny deer ticks who can be found in tall grasses or wooded areas. Symptoms may include a bull’s-eye rash and flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of the tick bite. The bacteria spread from the tick may lead to joint pain over the next few months and neurological symptoms have the potential to occur years after the bite. These include numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, or possibly Bell’s palsy (partial, temporary face paralysis). It’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and tuck pant legs into socks when hiking, and stay in the middle of the trail. Always check the entire body for ticks following time spent in wooded or grassy areas. Finally, if a child does find a tick on their body, they should have it removed by the camp nurse or another adult, using tweezers and pulling the tick straight out of the skin.
- Wear appropriate footwear and clothing – Flip flops offer young feet no support, can lead to poor foot and leg position when running and jumping, and can pose a tripping hazard, especially on uneven ground. Children should wear sturdy, lace up shoes for running games and sports. Loose fitting clothing should be worn on hot days to allow the body to cool, and hats will keep the sun off of children’s heads. Don’t forget to cover as much skin as is comfortably possibly when hiking or playing near potential tick hideouts.
- Train to play, don’t play to train – If your child is attending a sports specific camp this summer, they will be playing their sport of choice for many, many hours each day. It is important that they train leading up to this. Going from no activity to eight hours a day of intense sports play places young bodies at risk. Muscle imbalance and weakness are threats to joint safety and when the body is fatigued, it is most susceptible to injury. Therefore, your child should be exercising regularly before camp begins. Make sure to include strengthening, flexibility, and endurance work so he or she is in shape prior to camp, rather than going to camp to get in shape.
- Don’t play in pain – Finally, if your child is injured, it should be addressed right away. Things as small as a blister or a mild sprain can have significant impact if ignored. Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong and needs attention. Injuries should be reported to camp staff, nurses, and coaches when they happen so that small injuries aren’t exacerbated. We don’t want a child to miss an entire sports season for an injury that if addressed immediately, could have resolved within a day or two. A helpful tactic is to remember the principles of RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
As you’re making the final camp checklist, remember the following:
- Carry water bottles
- Apply sunscreen
- Wear appropriate, activity specific clothing
- Build a strong foundation before playing sports
- Seek medical assistance when necessary – RICE!
Maureen Suhr is a doctor of physical therapy and board certified pediatric specialist. She is assistant manager of the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Network.