Keeping Your Child Safe During A Heat Wave: 12 Tips for Parents

Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, but it's especially dangerous for young children. Here are 12 tips to keep your child safe during a heat wave, plus how to recognize heat-related illnesses

Heat Waves: Especially Dangerous For Kids

As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, children under the age of 5 are at the highest risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.

Why is this the case?

  • Young kids' bodies heat up more quickly than adults' bodies.
  • Children also aren't as attentive to signs that heat is tiring them out, and may be more inclined to keep doing an activity even if heat leaves them feeling unwell.
  • And since they don't sweat as much as adults do, it's harder for kids to cool down their bodies efficiently.

As Dr. Claire McCarthy (Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School) told the New York Times, "Young kids can heat up very quickly. They are also often more active than adults --- and less likely to be aware of the early signs of getting overheated."

Learn more about keeping kids safe in the heat with tips from KAPP-KVEW and the Seattle Children’s Tri-Cities Clinic:

Signs of Overheating in Children

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two different illnesses. But heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke if not properly treated. Heat stroke can be life-threatening, and can damage the brain and other body systems.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include:

  • Dizziness/lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weak, fast heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swollen ankles, feet, or hands

If your child shows these symptoms:

  • Bring them to a cooler location
  • Have them lie down to rest (or have them sit still)
  • Take off excess clothing
  • Give them plenty of water
  • Run a cool, wet cloth on their skin (or put water on the skin)

Symptoms of heat stroke may include:

  • Hot, dry skin
  • Throbbing headache
  • Very high body temperature
  • Sleepiness/lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Rapid but strong pulse
  • Possible lack of sweating (over half of the children who experience heat stroke don't sweat)

If your child develops heat stroke:

    • Immediately call 911 and let the emergency operator know heat stroke is suspected.
    • As you wait for help, use the cooling techniques that are also used as a response to heat exhaustion.

12 Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe In The Heat

So, how to protect your little one from heat-related illnesses when the temperature rises? Follow these tips:

1. Stay in cool, air-conditioned places for most of the high heat day. If your home does not have air conditioning, plan to stay in a nearby cooling center space, such as a library or community center.

2. Dress your child in lightweight, light-colored clothing that fits loosely. Choose clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton.

3. Make sure that your child stays hydrated.

Water is the best option to keep your toddler or older child hydrated --- it should be their primary hydration source. They should be drinking it regularly (every half-hour or so) if they're at least one year old.

For babies who haven't yet reached their first birthday, make sure they're getting plenty of breastmilk or formula. Even if baby is dehydrated, giving breastmilk or formula is the best way to restore hydration.

4. If your baby is under 12 months of age, strictly limit their sun exposure during a heat wave (of more than 90 degrees). The youngest babies are the most sensitive to the sun and the heat. In fact, if baby is under 6 months of age, you should strictly limit your baby's sun exposure no matter how hot it is outside.

5. Liberally apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to all areas of your child's body (if your child is at least 6 months of age). Broad-spectrum sunscreen offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Be sure to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply it at least every two hours (or after water play).

6. Limit outdoor activity time during heat waves. On humid days where the temperature is at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit, children shouldn't be outside for more than half an hour at a time. Plan plenty of fun, non-screen related indoor activities.

7. Monitor your child's activity levels. The most energetic outdoor activities should be stopped, reduced, or limited to cooler times of the day (like early morning or near sunset). Have your child stop playing if they show any signs of overheating.

8. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest during heat waves, especially after they are active.

9. Plan water-based activities. They're less likely to lead to overheating, since the after will keep your little one cool. For instance, go for a swim, or set up the sprinkler.

10. If you're playing outside and not in the water, keep your child in the shade.

11. For cooling relief after (or during) outdoor times, run a cool, wet washcloth over your child's arms and legs, have them wear a cool cloth on the back of their neck, and/or use a spritzer bottle to keep their skin hydrated.

12. Never leave your child alone in a parked car (at any time of year) --- even if the air conditioner is on or the windows are down.

Heatstroke in a hot car can be fatal, and most commonly causes death in children under the age of 4. Hot cars are so dangerous for children because their body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's body temperature.

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready. Set. Food!

All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.