One of the best summer activities is visiting the beach. You don’t need to spend a lot to enjoy this day-long activity. But if you have young kids, it does require some planning. Going to the beach with a toddler can seem intimidating, especially when you think of all the things to pack. But don’t let it overwhelm you.
Below, we look at everything you need to prepare for in order to keep your toddler safe at the beach. With a little planning, you can ensure a fun (and safe) beach day for the whole family.
Seek Protection From The Sun
When you’re doing an outdoor activity like going to the beach, making sure the whole family is protected from the sun is crucial. The younger your child is, the more delicate their skin tends to be. Babies don’t have as much melanin as adults – the skin pigment that provides protection from the sun. It develops over time, but this means younger kids are more susceptible to UV damage.
As the Skin Cancer Foundation explains:
- It’s recommended to keep babies under 6 months of age out of direct sunlight, especially during the morning and afternoon when the sun is often more intense.
- Older babies and toddlers can be exposed to more sunlight, but it’s still best to avoid direct sunlight whenever possible.
At the beach, consider the following ways to protect your toddler from the sun:
Slap on sunscreen
Use a child-friendly sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Apply 30 minutes before going outside and liberally every 2 hours.
Keep to the shade.
Situate your belongings under trees or bring a sun umbrella to create shade for your child.
Cover exposed skin.
Keep your child’s skin covered with a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves. Choose lightweight material so they don’t overheat.
To prevent dehydration, make sure your child drinks a lot of fluids. Offer snacks that are rich in water, like fruits. Remember, you can never do too much in the name of sun safety.
Choose The Right Sunscreen
Not all sunscreens are created equally. When going to the beach, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that’s appropriate for your child’s age and is strong enough to withstand hours of direct sunlight. Consider the following when choosing sunscreen for a toddler:
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen offers. The higher the number, the more protection the lotion offers. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
The type of sunscreen
Sunscreens are often divided into two broad categories – mineral and chemical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens are preferred for young kids since they’re more prone to sensitive skin.
Look for ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are gentler. Conversely, avoid harsh ingredients like alcohol, synthetic fragrances, and chemicals (such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate).
Additionally, choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays. When visiting the beach, you should also choose a water-resistant sunscreen that won’t wash off if you play in the ocean.
Method of application
There are many ways to apply sunscreen, but don’t assume the most convenient option is the best. While a spray sunscreen may seem easiest for a fussy toddler, the issue is that it’s hard to ensure all the skin is covered since most sprays are translucent. This puts your child at a higher risk of sunburn.
In general, cream sunscreens are best for dry skin areas (like the arms and legs), since you can easily tell if it’s been evenly distributed. You can use a stick or cream sunscreen for the face but try a gel sunscreen for areas with hair (like the scalp).
Practice Water Safety
Regardless of your child’s age, you should Never take your eyes off of them in the water. This is especially true in the ocean, which can be more unpredictable than a river or pool.
If you’re swimming with a toddler, you should be directly in the water with them. It’s wise not to take them out too far. Not only should you be able to touch the ground, but so should they. Avoid the water if it’s rough or there’s a current. Even a small wave can throw an adult off balancewhich can be dangerous if you’re holding onto the child and fall and/or lose grasp of them while overpowered by the water.
There are often signs at beaches warning visitors whether the water is safe to swim in or not. It’s preferable to go to a beach with a lifeguard on duty for an additional layer of protection.
Keep the following in mind when playing in the ocean alongside a baby or toddler.
Observe the ocean
Even if the beach you’re visiting is known to be a good spot to swim, it’s important to observe the ocean before letting your child in. Currents and temperatures can change quickly, so know what to look for before getting your toes wet.
Speaking to Outside, surfer Richard Schmidt says that folks should Never go into the ocean without watching it for at least 15 minutes. Also, look at your surroundings to identify any hazards, like rocks.
Age is important
For the most part, it’s okay to take an infant into a body of water (like an ocean or lake) if they’re 2 months or older unless advised otherwise by a medical professional.
However, be aware that the younger the child is, the easier it is for them to feel cold. Make sure the water is at an appropriate temperature before allowing them to go in, and don’t stay in it for too long. Make sure your child dries off and puts on dry clothes as soon as they get out of the water.
Consider flotation devices
At 2 years old, your toddler likely doesn’t know how to float let alone swim. It’s a wise idea to bring along flotation devices to keep them extra safe in the water. Pack a life jacket, water wings, or another flotation device that will attach to your child and ensure their head stays above water.
Kids of all ages can benefit from flotation devices, especially if their swimming skills aren’t strong. The ocean is more unpredictable and stronger than a pool, so keep that in mind. But remember, even with a flotation device your toddler shouldn’t be going in the water alone. Remain by them at all times.
Make the boundaries clear
The younger your child is, the less responsive they may be to instructions or rules. But it’s important to make clear boundaries, especially when in a new environment like the beach. Have a conversation with your toddler about the rules. Explain things in age-appropriate terms. Emphasize that they need to listen to the adults in charge, and if they can’t, then you won’t be able to stay at the beach.
Remind them when at the beach of the boundaries and try to give a visual representation. For example, point out a landmark and explain they’re not allowed to go past that. The more your toddler hears the rules, the more familiar they’ll be with them. Remain consistent in your approach.
Sources: Skin Cancer Foundation, Outside, Children’s Health, Kid’s Health, Canadian Government,