The Parent’s Primer for a Child-Friendly, Child-Safe Summer

Hylton I Lightman, MD DCH (SA) FAAP 

School is winding down and summer vacation is gearing up. This country’s valued tradition of the long summer break in this country from school — in South Africa, where I was raised, children’s summer vacation from school is less than 6 weeks – is necessary for the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children. So we are told. Most psychologists concur that children need time away from the regimentation of school.

This does not mean time children are to be “hefker” or that summer time for growth is a fallow one. Far from it. In addition to having a break from school, camps and summer programs offer environments for other kids of learning. These include team work so kids learn that there is something greater than themselves. Kids learn resilience. You fall down or make a mistake:  Okay, so pick yourself up and move on. Kids learn to move out of their comfort zone and to make new (and, please G-d, healthy decisions).

Even children not yet in school can blossom over the summer when they play outdoors or on the beach. Think of a child who might be getting some physical therapy or occupational therapy and the family moves up to the country for a couple of weeks. The formal therapy might go on hiatus. This will give the child the opportunity to run around and play in a new environment.  Often times, the therapies received “gel” for the child and they can move on to the next stage of development.

So summer is a great time but we cannot leave it just to chance. We parents have a key role here.  We are obligated to structure our children’s environments for success during the summer months.

Here is a look at several points that you, Mommy and Abba, can implement to assure a win-win this summer for your child.

The Well Visit

Readers know that I believe in the well visit, that annual pilgrimage to the pediatrician once a child is past 3 years of age. No matter your child’s age (or anyone’s age, for that matter), the well visit is important. Honestly, your car requires an oil change every several thousand miles to stay healthy. The annual well visit is the minimum one should do for our children and our selves.  Launch your children into summer fun knowing that they are healthy by making sure that each one has had a well visit within the last 11-12 months.

The well visit deserves its own attention as each age demands that the pediatrician looks at the child with a set of eyes appropriate to that point in development. I have written about this previously and there will be more about it in detail in future articles. For the purposes of this article, these are the most important general points that you need to assure, in partnership with your child’s pediatrician, for your child.

Overall Physical Development including Height and Weight

There are many points to review to assure optimal development:

  • Is your child following his own curve?
  • Has there been an unexpected weight gain or loss?
  • Are you concerned that your child may be too short for his age?
  • Too tall for his age?
  • Is precocious puberty a possibility?
  • Is puberty delayed?

Speaking of physical development, this is the time that the pediatrician should examine the patient’s genitalia. In my practice, we have diagnosed testicular cancer (which was caught early and the person has moved on the lead a full married life, Baruch HaShem) as well as non-malignant masses. You get the message!

This is also an ideal time for you to communicate to your child the importance of his respecting his body.

The bottom line:You want your child to have maximize physical activity this summer. Make sure they are physically up to it and can participate to their heart’s content.

Vaccines – Vaccines save lives. Period.

I have written plenty about this and I’ve made no secret of the fact that my team and I say YES to Vaccines. I have written about the flu, meningococcal, Tdap and HPV vaccines, the Meningococcal B vaccine (), the recent measles outbreak and more.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a robust website with information for the layman about vaccines as well as the recommended schedule of vaccines from birth into young adulthood.

Do you have a baby who is between the ages of 6-12 months and you will be in the Catskills or Poconos this summer? Perhaps your young baby will be in a group babysitting situation or you’ll be out-and-about with him during the summer.

Then you must vaccinate your baby with the MMR vaccine.

Jane R. Zucker MD, Assistant Health Commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOH), recently recommended this step as a means of protecting our little ones against the measles. Once the baby turns 12 months of age, he will receive another MMR vaccine, to be followed by another one at 4 years of age.

I strongly recommend this step for all babies. It can save your baby’s life.

Mental Health 

The adolescent well visit has a number of surveys to be completed.  The two most common ones are the 9-question survey for screening depression and the CRAFFT Screening Interview, a short clinical assessment tool designed to screen for substance-related risks and problems in adolescents.

If either tool hints at or reveals any problems, then please, Ema and Abba, deal with them and get your child the appropriate helps AND inform the camp accordingly.  The more information the camp has, the better the staff can help your child.  

Camp Forms

Each camp has its own set of health forms to be completed and submitted in a timely manner.

Be honest, Ema and Abba, when completing the camp forms.

For example, does your child have ADD or ADHD and functions more optimally with medication? Perhaps your child has allergies and needs to be with an epipen at all times.  Inform the camp accordingly and make the necessary arrangements for the necessary medications together with explicit instructions for dispensing.

This is not the time to be “embarrassed” or to think that this information will compromise shidduchim for your children. Please do not hold back on notifying the camp nurse about psychiatric or neurological medications. There are confidential boxes that can be checked and the camp nurse will call you privately.

Children’s physical, mental and/or emotional selves are at stake here. If the camp staff encounters an emergency, then having the facts on hand will only help them to resolve it successfully and happily, without permanent harm or loss of life.

The Camp Environment

Whether it’s overnight or day camp, a travelling camp or a NCSY program, your child will be changing clothes in close proximity to others. I hope and pray your children’s camps have guidelines for changing times and workflows. This should be included in a child protection policy and code of conduct developed by the camp which the camp’s professional heads have communicated to all staff and trained accordingly.

Further, if, G-d forbid, anything happens, what is the camp’s policy for addressing it?

How is such a situation reported? How will the camp deal with a predator of any age?

Rooms that are on camp grounds that are not required for camp activities should not be accessed.  The rooms required for activities can be clearly seen and easily accessed.  During camp activities, doors should be kept open. Preferably, camp staff should be working in pairs.

This is an ideal time, when speaking with you child, to instill or re-instill in him a respect for his body as well as respecting his peers for their bodies. It’s also an appropriate time to discuss that no person should ever touch or examine his private parts unless it is a physician or other health care professional and only with a parent in the room.

Sometimes, intuition can tell us when another person’s vibe is projecting something off kilter or danger might be lurking. Encourage your child to listen to his “gut feeling” and keep away.  Your child may want to discuss these feelings with a trusted staff member.

No Drugs, No Alcohol, No Anything

It seems so obvious but it needs to be said. And it cannot be said enough.

No drugs, no alcohol, no anything.

Thankfully, camps have zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol and inappropriate touching (as discussed just before).

What is the camp’s protocol for addressing drug and/or alcohol use and inappropriate touching?

I urge you to discuss this with your child in advance of camp so that he is prepared in case he encounters the “Heaven Forbid.”

Some suggested language: “I love you very much and want only the best for you which means that you are safe at all times.  It is possible that you may see people indulging in drugs and alcohol.  I won’t be physically present but I hope and pray that you will exercise your free will to walk away and never touch the stuff.  You are helping others by reporting it to the camp.  Please know that I love you and you can talk to me about anything.”

Discuss the insidiousness of vaping and Juuling as well as they are detrimental to their long-term being.

Fun in the Sun Means Practicing Sun Safety

Summer time equals sun time and it’s crucial that our children (and all people) need sunscreen in order to be protected from the sun’s harmful rays, no matter how wonderful sunning may feel in the moment. Sunscreen use can help prevent skin cancer which any person can get, regardless of age, gender or race.

Of course, the first and best line of defense is to cover up and to remain in the shade as much as possible between 10 am and 3 pm. Sunscreens should offer broad-spectrum protection, Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 and higher, and water resistance. Teach your children to apply, apply and apply, especially after swimming. Instruct counselors how they can help as well with younger children and applying. Sunscreens are also for cloudy days. Brimmed hats are also a good avenue for sun protection (black-hat Borsalinos not necessary) as are some of the contemporary swim cover-ups.

Try to limit sun exposure midday when the sun is at its zenith.

By the way, sun safety is not limited to the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  We should be vigilant about protecting ourselves against the sun and its harmful rays throughout the year.

The Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign foundation has practical, useful information, including how to do body checks. Colette’s tragic death at the age of 30 from melanoma spurred her mother to action to educate others so they would not suffer the same fate.  Educate ourselves to help your children. Her story is on the website and is a moving tribute by a mother in pain who wishes to help others to save themselves and their children from the same fate.


Summer time equals water. Water is fun. It also means following the rules. Swim only where it is clearly marked and a lifeguard is on duty. This includes pools, lakes and oceans. Hopefully, your child’s camp has a strong swim program. Investing in swimming lessons is a fabulous way to empower children.

Speaking of water, a win-win summer entails encouraging your children to hydrate at every opportunity with water. Children are at greater risk for dehydrating because their bodies do not cool down as efficiently as adults

  • Make sure your child has access to cool drinking water at all times.
  • Speak with them about scheduling hydration breaks. Before prolonged physical activity, a child should be well-hydrated. During the activity, periodic drinking should be enforced: For example, each 20 minutes, 5 oz of cold tap water or a flavored sports drink for a child weighing 90 lbs, and 9 oz for an adolescent weighing 130 lbs.  This holds true even if the child does not feel thirsty.
  • Sugary drinks are not recommended as they can aggravate dehydration. Sorry kids, my own included.

Swimming pools, both public and private must be fenced off without easy access. There should be some kind of pool covering in private pools.


It is important to check for ticks. Often, they go unnoticed and they can cause harm.

Prior to bathing, palpate your child’s scalp and head. Often, the tick can be felt as a bump and is not always seen when looking perfunctorily at the scalp.

For prevention purposes, spray all clothes with insect repellent.

Helmets and Head Protection

Playing sports is so important but playing smartly is the trick. Know the sport but know how to protect your head as well.

A sports-related injury to the head is called a “concussion,” which can temporarily interfere with the way the brain works.  Head injuries take time to heal and require rest.

Concussion symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability and difficulty with thinking skills, such as memory and attention. Post-concussion syndrome is a complex disorder of concussion symptoms that last longer than a normal recovery period.

As always, prevention is best. Appropriate fitting headgear and other equipment is a must.  It is also important to find out the camp’s protocol for an injury and informing a parent accordingly.

There is also a routine annual pretest to assess baseline mental functioning prior to any concussion.  This can be put into your child’s medical record and be compared to mental functioning post-concussion.

Don’t Leave Your Child in the Car Unattended

It is so easy to forget that you have a beautiful child sleeping in the back seat. They are quiet and peaceful and in the craziness of our over programmed, hectic lives, it has happened that we forget they are there.

My recent article on this has several interventions for preventing these tragedies. All are important to combat this phenomenon, especially making sure that you when you put your precious child in the back, put something you NEED as well. In addition, you and your spouse must communicate about the day’s plans and how the schedule unfolds so you help each other to remember. In addition, use technology, one example of which is the Elepho Clip.

There’s a lot of information here.

We want each and every child to have a safe, productive summer.

Please use this time to plan for it. Did you know that June is National Safety Month?

As always, daven

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