How to Help Your Kids Deal With Hot School Days | The Survival Doctorby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

When I think of school starting, I still imagine red and orange leaves and cool temperatures; it wasn’t that long ago that we thought of fall as schooltime.

Not so today. Many kids in the United States are meeting their new teachers right now, in early August—one of the hottest months of the year. If you have children, do they know how to deal with the heat on their own, on the playground, sports field, or school bus?

Because it is downright hot out there. This week, a chunk of the Southeast has been under a heat advisory or excessive heat warning; temperatures have reached above 100. And throughout much of the rest of the U.S., temps have been in the 80s and 90s. How is it where you are?

Drink Up

Last week, a French couple died while hiking sand dunes in New Mexico. Their 9-year-old son, who was with them, survived. How?

Benny House, the local sheriff thinks one big reason is simply that the couple gave their son more water. “The parents would take a drink, give him two drinks,” he told KVIA, a station based in El Paso, Texas. (They had to ration in this way because they didn’t have nearly enough water for everybody, according to CNN.)

Water helps your body cool itself. You need it for sweat. And you need more of it in the heat because you sweat. When you get dehydrated, you’re at higher risk for heat exhaustion and then heatstroke.

So if your kids play outside for recess or partake in after-school sports, make sure they know to drink plenty of water. They should drink it not just while they’re being active but throughout the day so they’re already well hydrated when they start the activity. Kids often don’t think about staying hydrated, and they can’t always rely on their thirst to tell them when they need more water. Ideally, if they’re playing in the heat, they should take a break about every 20 minutes and drink a glass.

Break It Up

When I was in elementary school in Mississippi, our building had no air conditioning. Today, there are still some schools like that in the North. But for most kids in the U.S., cool schoolrooms provide a healthy respite on those hot days.

However, when kids are participating in outdoor sports, they’re out working hard in the heat for a long time with no indoor breaks. Make sure they wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, and encourage them to stay in the shade when they can.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends not having kids jump into long, high-intensity activities but rather to increase the activity gradually. They also suggest being especially careful on humid days.

This Is Your Red-Flag Warning

Teach kids the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. The more people around them who also know the signs the better because confusion and disorientation are two of the signs, and they can be hard to recognize in yourself. You need someone else to be watching out for you. Unfortunately, the French man who died in the desert reportedly fell victim to disorientation. Per CNN:

[H]e repeatedly told his son “the truck is right up there,” though they were more than a mile into the trail, the sheriff said.

His wife was apparently not with them at that time. (She’d tried to return to the truck earlier because she wasn’t feeling good.)

Above all, besides your child, the coach should be well-versed in heat-related illness—both the signs and on-the-scene treatment. Ask what the coaching team’s protocol is.

Playing outside and participating in sports is a fun, healthy part of growing up. If your kids have been playing outdoors a lot and it’s been hot this summer, they’re probably pretty well acclimated to a certain amount of heat. So that’s good. But excessive heat, prolonged exposure, or increased activity can still put them at risk for heat-related illness. Taking a few simple precautions helps keep them healthy and safe so they can enjoy these sunny days to the most—before the leaves do turn orange and the temperatures turn cool and the back-to-school weather gets back to what it used to be.

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Photo: Flickr/An Ceann Corr, “School Bus,” straightened with filter added, shared via CC BY-SA 2.0.