group of kids and student leaders sit on the grass. kids all wearing red "Club U" t-shirts.

Keeping kids safe in the sun

This piece was previously posted on The Scope.

Summer is a fun time for kids, but being out in the hot summer sun can do a lot of damage. And not just sunburns. Pediatrician Cindy Gellner, M.D., explains how to keep your child safe in the heat, identify symptoms of dehydration and heatstroke and how to treat them.


We’ve all heard about the risks of sun exposure when it comes to tanning and burning, but there’s a lot more that the sun and heat can do. The biggest risk to kids is dehydration. You’d be surprised how much liquid a child needs to drink in order to stay hydrated during the summer. Kids should really drink a tall glass of water 30 minutes before they even go out, then take regular water breaks every 20 minutes.

A good sign that your child is well hydrated is, does their pee look like water? If it does, then they’re hydrated. If it’s bright yellow, then they need to step up the fluids. Kids and adults shouldn’t wait until they feel thirsty to start drinking water. That means they’re already on the road to dehydration.

Symptoms to watch out for that indicate your child is getting dehydrated is if they have a dry mouth, start getting a headache or muscle cramps, are more irritable or fatigued than they normally would be while playing or if they feel dizzy. For any of those, it’s instant in the shade and rehydrate time. These are signs of heat exhaustion, and if they worsen, then heatstroke kicks in, and that’s a true medical emergency.

The other thing to mention that I hear all too frequently is a news report about a child dying because they were left in a hot car for just a moment, perhaps because they were sleeping, the caregiver had to step away from the car for just a brief moment. Never, ever, ever, ever leave a child alone in a car or a pet for that matter. It only takes 10 minutes for the car to heat up by almost 20 degrees. Children are at greater risk for heatstroke and death in a hot car because their bodies heat up faster than an adult’s does and cracking a window isn’t a solution.

The bottom line for kids is to keep them hydrated, keep them in the shade if they’re really little. Let them cool off if they seem to be getting tired. And watch them closely to make sure they aren’t overheating, and if they are showing signs of heatstroke, call 911 right away.