If you’ve ever wrestled a wriggling, uncooperative toddler while trying to apply sunscreen, you’re not alone. It’s summer and the kids are excited, which means sun safety sometimes falls by the wayside. Even your older kids may ditch their hats and sunglasses to bask in the sun or they may “forget” to reapply sunscreen after a swim.

Yet it’s so important to protect young skin, which is especially vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays. Just one or two blistering sunburns can double your child’s lifetime risk for melanoma, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. Given the high stakes, how are you possibly going to get your kids to practice sun safety? Don’t worry. Unlike the sunscreen-on-the-toddler scenario, we’ve got you covered.


1. Get them into the habit of applying sunscreen.


Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, make sunscreen a part of your – and their — daily routine. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.

Note that children’s sunscreens often have the same ingredients as adult versions. They’re just packaged in a cuter bottle. If that cute bottle gets your child to apply it, it’s worth the investment. The bottom line: the best sunscreen is the one your child agrees to wear.

    • Lead by example and apply sunscreen yourself at least 30 minutes before you go outside. Depending on your child’s age and ability, help or encourage them to do the same.
    • For younger kids, make it fun.
      • Put “cheetah” spots of sunscreen and have them rub them in.
      • Pretend the sunscreen spray is a dragon’s breath.
      • Set a timer and count down together. Sing a song that lasts as long as the application.
      • Ask them to stand in front of a mirror and watch to see if you’ve missed a spot.
    • For older kids, add sunscreen to their daily chore chart.
    •  If your child is sensitive to the feel of sunscreen, try different types. Sunscreen comes in spray, stick, and lotion and can be thick or thin, scented or unscented.

Pro Tip: Check the active ingredients, and look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These sunblock ingredients are less irritating if your child has sensitive skin.


2. Teach your child when to reapply sunscreen.


If you’re out in the sun, you’re going to want to reapply your sunscreen to avoid burning. A good rule of thumb is to reapply when kids are wet and sweaty, after swimming, or before the timeframe stated on the sunscreen label. Remember to use a waterproof sunscreen that won’t come off in the pool or when they sweat and that sunscreens need about 30 minutes to absorb into your skin so account for the overlap time.

    • For older elementary kids and teens, have them set a timer.
    • For younger kids, give them a few minutes warning. Then ask where he or she wants to be when you reapply. Having a choice gives them some control and encourages cooperation.
    • Schedule reapplication right before a break for a favorite snack. (Snacks after sunscreen!)


3. Let them choose their sun protective wear.


Sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses help keep dangerous rays away from sensitive eyes and skin. Involve your child in the choice so that they are more likely to wear the item.

    • Go shopping with your child for hats, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Let them pick out an ensemble…. even if it doesn’t match (sorry, moms!).
    • Consider UV blocking shirts that provide added protection. Avoid tank tops that expose kids’ shoulders.
    • Find a pair of sunglasses that fit your child well. Add a strap that will keep them in place during energetic play.
    • Model wearing your own protective sun gear. Young children might enjoy a matching set! Older kids may be more likely to enjoy “trendy” sunglasses or hats. So, look for ones that have their favorite character or celebrity on the package.


4. Know when to go out and when to seek shade.


The sun’s rays are strongest during midday. Encourage your child to stay out of the sun during the hottest times. Sun safe hours are before 10 am and after 4 pm; that’s when you can offer unlimited outdoor play. During other times, you will want to limit your child’s time in the sun and encourage them to seek shade when possible.

    • Play the shadow game. If your child’s shadow is shorter than he/she is, it means it’s time to find shade. Challenge your child to find all of the shady spots nearby.
    • Set up a shady play area. Include drinks, snacks, games, chalk, balls, dolls, and even a water table to entice children to stay there. For the beach or places where there is no shade, play tents and sun canopies can protect from UVA and UVB rays.
    • Summer rides in the car can also expose your child to dangerous UVA rays which pass right through glass. Add transparent window films to your car windows or provide a light blanket to cover your child’s exposed legs.


5. Explain sun safety in an age-appropriate way.


You want your child to understand why sun safety is important. That ultimately will help them to practice it. Do it in a way that your child can understand and not be frightened.

    • For preschoolers, you can share that the sun can burn you and that will hurt.
    • For elementary school students, share the basics and say that sunburns can damage your skin.
    • For teens, you can go into detail and share the long-term damage that can occur later in life.
    • And for those young adults looking to get a “healthy summer tan,” let them know that there is no such thing. Even tans will damage their skin, and cause wrinkles. Encourage them to use tanning lotions with sunscreen instead.

Be consistent with sun safety precautions and you and your family will enjoy the summer sun that much more!


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.


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