Summer heat safety for kids

It's predicted to be a long hot summer. We've put together some tips to keep you and your kids safe and cool over the summer.

Summer heat safety banner

Kids in hot cars

Always check for your baby in the back.

Leaving a child in a car, even for a few minutes, can cause life-long effects and can be fatal. The risk of heat exhaustion is higher for babies and children than adults. There is no safe amount of time to leave a baby or child in a car.

A ‘quick’ errand can be fatal

The body temperature of babies and young children rises three to five times faster than older children or adults, so running a ‘quick’ errand, a grocery shop, dropping-in to the office or doing school pick-up is too long to leave your little one in the car. Although taking babies and young children with you to run quick errands can take extra time, it can be lifesaving.

It may seem safe enough to leave children in the car for an errand as the engine and the air-conditioning has been on and the car seems cool. Once the engine is turned off, even a cool car rapidly heats up. Cars are not well insulated, and sunlight exposure will quickly heat the car temperature by up to 30 degrees higher than the outside temperature.

Within the first five minutes of closing your car doors, the temperature inside can increase by as much as 75 per cent. Leaving the windows down slightly has little effect on the inside car temperature with large cars heating up just as fast as smaller ones.

Always check the back seat before leaving the car.

Dangerous distractions

Routine activities, such as driving to work or grocery shopping, can become so familiar that we almost do them without thinking, making it easier for other things to distract us. Even a slight change to a routine, like dropping a child at daycare on the way to work, could be forgotten as it is outside of the norm.

Our brains can even create false memories that the child had already been dropped off. This loss of awareness or memory is known as fatal distraction, and it can happen to anyone. It could have fatal consequences if a child is left in a car.

Hotter temperatures can also reduce focus and increase irritability, disturbed sleep and brain fog. Long-term symptoms of COVID-19 can cause similar symptoms.

Research suggests using cues and reminders to reduce the risk of fatal distraction. However, if the reminder or cue is forgotten, it becomes difficult to remember the task.  To combat this, we’ve developed a car-key tag as a reminder that prompts you to check for your baby in the back seat every time you take your keys out of the ignition.

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Heat illness in babies and children

Babies and children are more prone to dehydration due to their smaller bodies and fluid volume. They also sweat less, generate more heat while moving around and may not be able to express effectively when they feel hot and distressed. These factors can make it difficult for them to regulate their body temperature, which can lead to heat related illness like heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can have negative impacts on a child’s health.

  • Heat exhaustion can reduce their cognitive abilities, affect their mood and impact their social engagement. 
  • Heatstroke results in a child’s body not being able to regulate temperature. It is a medical emergency and can be life-threatening.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration or heat-illness

Mild symptoms include:

  • darker urine and fewer wet nappies
  • dry mouth and skin
  • headaches and nausea in older children

Severe symptoms include:

  • more irritable
  • less alert, confused or increased drowsiness
  • pale skin or skin that feels cold
  • body is floppy or limp
  • no tears when crying
  • refuses to drink or is extremely thirsty

If your baby or child has mild signs and symptoms of dehydration or heat-illness, or you are worried, visit your local doctor or call Health Direct on 1800 022 222.

If your baby or child has severe signs and symptoms of dehydration or heat-illness, call triple zero (000).

For more information see our Hot weather and sun safety information in the kids health hub

Keep your cool this summer

Heat is a silent killer

Heatwaves are a natural hazard and kill more Australians than all other natural disasters combined. The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted this summer will be extremely hot and dry.

Children are particularly vulnerable to heat illness. When it’s hot, children may become irritable, tired and lose their appetite. Adults and teenagers can also experience changes in mood during hot weather.

Research has shown that family and domestic conflict can increase during heatwaves.

If you or your child are in danger, or if you have been threatened, physically hurt or sexually assaulted, call triple zero (000). For 24/7 support, information and counselling call:

  • NSW Domestic Violence line on 1800 65 64 63
  • Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)
  • Child Protection Helpline on 13 21 11
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Support on 13 Yarn (13 92 76)

Hacks to stay healthy, happy and safe this summer

In the home:

Tip: Focus on one part of the house. You can use less energy and keep your kids from losing their cool.

  • Turn on an electric fan when using the air conditioner.
  • Keep the air conditioner 3-4 degrees higher (24-27°C) and still feel as cool, saving you electricity and money.
  • Don’t have an air-conditioner? Make an ice water fan. Place a bowl of ice water in front of a fan and keep the room cool by closing other doors.
  • This will keep you cool and use less energy. Never point a fan towards your baby or child.
  • Place covered ice packs or frozen water bottles on pillows and at the foot of the bed before children go to sleep. Hot air rises, so if bedrooms are upstairs try putting mattress downstairs or on the floor to create a cooler sleeping environment.
  • If you come home to a hot house, use exhaust fans in the kitchen and the bathroom to help extract some heat before using the budget friendly hacks to keep cool.

Babies and children:

If you are going for a walk, wet a muslin wrap and partly drape it over the pram, making sure air can flow through. The wet wrap and the movement of walking will create a cool environment while protecting your child from the sun.

Never use dry muslin wraps or material to cover a pram or capsule as it can raise the temperature by up to 4°C and can cause suffocation.

Want to know what the heat health risk is in your area? Try the HeatWatch application.

Water safety

Stay within arm’s reach around water. No child should drown.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death and injury in children under five in Australia.

Despite a 12% reduction in deaths from drowning in NSW over the 2022-23 summer period, there were still 24 presentations to Sydney’s Children’s Hospitals for fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents.

In NSW, the risk of a drowning incident is highest between the 25 December and 2 January, during heatwaves and in the afternoons. NSW is predicted to see hotter days, prolonged days of higher temperatures and more frequent heatwaves, so it’s important to be attentive around water this summer.

A drowning incident does not need to be fatal to have serious consequences. Non-fatal drowning incidents can result in serious lifelong health issues, including organ and brain damage, with devastating lifelong effects for survivors and families. Children are at the most risk for non-fatal drowning incidents.

Tips to keep safe around water this summer:

  • Encourage children to take breaks from swimming. Swimming can be tiring for children and young people, even if they are strong swimmers. Taking a break can help children regain their strength and energy.
  • Set family rules that a child must ask for permission before going near any water.
  • Safety test all child swimming aids and flotation devices before getting into the water. Swimming and floatation aids do not prevent drowning.
  • Check floatation devices for slits, leaks or holes, sizing and that they still fit properly and for any product recalls
  • Follow the instructions or manufacturer guides for the correct use of the device.
  • Dress children in brightly coloured, sun-safe clothing and note what your child is wearing to help track their movements.
  • Make sure there's always an adult to be the ‘Water Watcher’. No one can supervise or watch your child as closely as you. Even if lifeguards are present, beaches can get very busy, and despite their best efforts, you need to be your child’s number one supervisor.

For more information see our Water safety information in the kids health hub

Last updated Friday 10th May 2024