With their high levels of energy, remarkable ability to bounce back from stumbles and falls, and endless curiosity, children often put themselves at significant risk for injury when exploring the great outdoors. Here are some basic safety guidelines for children.

Sports Safety

Sports, whether team or solo, are great for kids: playing games gets them outdoors, exercising, learning new things, meeting friends, and in the cases of team sports, figuring out how to work as a team. However, organized sports do tend to come with some risk for physical injury. Luckily, much of the sports-related risk can be mitigated by taking the proper safety precautions.

While each sport has its own set of safety rules to be aware of, there are some general guidelines to follow no matter what:

  • always wear the proper gear
  • wear the helmet made for the sport you’re playing
  • wear protective eye gear if necessary
  • wear the right footwear
  • make sure everyone understands the rules of the game
  • try to have everyone playing be on more or less the same skill level
  • if a child says he or she doesn’t want to play, don’t force the issue
  • on that note, make sure all kids know that if they are hurt, they should report it—staying on the court or field when hurt can seriously exacerbate any problems
  • warm up before playing to avoid sprains or strains

Bike Safety

Bicycle riding offers children a sense of freedom and mobility like little else, but it also comes with its own set of safety concerns. First and foremost everyone, kids and adults, should always wear a bike helmet. Make sure your child has a properly fitting, CPSC- or Snell-certified helmet.

Teach your child the rules of the road: to stop and obey traffic signals, ride in the same direction as cars, avoid riding on sidewalks, and watch closely for cars that are turning, leaving driveways, or opening doors. Make sure your child doesn’t ride around at nighttime, and knows that while riding a bicycle may be fun, it isn’t a game; horsing around and getting distracted while riding can lead to serious accidents.

Camping and Hiking Safety

The most important safety tip for camping and hiking—and not just for kids—is to be prepared. For example, you never know when the weather may shift dramatically. Therefore, it is essential to bring extra clothes for all weather: heat, cold, harsh sun, copious precipitation, etc. Bring layers of clothing and make sure the kids wear comfortable hiking shoes.

One common problem is getting lost. Children may rush up ahead without taking the time to assess their surroundings. Make sure you reiterate the importance of paying attention to the trail and noticing landmarks, and make sure that youngsters know how to react if they do become lost, so that they stay calm and don’t exacerbate the situation. Have your children carry whistles so that they have a way to safely send a loud signal for help.

Make sure that they know not to ever drink untreated water while out in the wilderness. Always assume that water in nature is contaminated. Bring bottled water and filters or iodine tablets as a backup.

Teach your children about poisonous and injurious plants before they go hiking, and try to limit their potential exposure to these by dressing them in long sleeves and warning them to stay on the trails. Also, check your kids thoroughly for ticks at the end of every day out in nature—ticks can carry very dangerous infections, such as Lyme disease. And children are likely to play around in the places loved by ticks, like bushes, tall grass, and sand dunes.

Seasonal Issues

Each of the four seasons has its own set of fun outdoor activities, and its own set of safety concerns.

In wintertime, for example, the ice and snow makes accidents much more common. When there’s snow on the ground, extra care should be taken when playing outdoors. Being properly dressed for the cold is also important—exposure to the cold can lead to frostnip or hypothermia, a very dangerous condition. In the fall and winter, respiratory illnesses like the flu become more prevalent; it is essential during the colder seasons to make sure your child is properly washing his or her hands and generally avoiding germs as much as possible.

In spring, allergies can become a big problem, especially for children who are asthmatic or who have insect allergies.

Many of the health concerns of the summertime are directly or indirectly tied to the closeness of the sun to the earth during that season. Most people experience the majority of their lifetime sun exposure before they reach the age of 18. It is, therefore, essential to teach young people the harm of being exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, and insist that they always put on sunscreen before going outside to play.

In the summer, water safety is a huge issue because many kids will spend lots of time swimming in the ocean, lake, or local pool. It’s generally a good idea to teach all kids to swim so that if, for some reason, they accidentally fall into the water, they don’t panic. For children who do swim, sure that whenever they are playing near or in the water, they understand the local safety rules they need to follow.