Six Tips to Keep Your Child Safe and Healthy at Camp

2 boys on kayak in lakeMany children look forward to the adventure of summer camp. Not only are summer camps a great opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, children are able to build friendships with peers and develop the independence and responsibility that comes through time away from parents. Before camp starts, parents can take a few precautions to make sure the week is safe, healthy, and fun.

1. Ask Questions and Complete Health Forms

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, credible camps will have written health policies and standards to protect your child. Be sure to get a copy of these and find out how emergencies are handled. Will a nurse or other medical professional will be on-site or is there a hospital nearby?

Prior to children starting camp, the camp should require a complete physical examination with documentation to include a detailed health history noting any significant illnesses, operations, injuries, food/medication allergies, and current medical problems. If your child has medications, find out what paperwork is needed for medications at camp. Your child will also be required to be up to date on all immunizations. Parents should inform the camp of any physical limitations their child may have and let them know about swimming ability.  

2. Avoid Wild Animals and Wild Plants

Children should be advised to stay away from wild animals. As enticing as it may be, they should be told not to feed, touch, or get near wild animals. Wild animals carry diseases, such as bird flu, Lyme disease, ringworm, cat scratch disease, salmonella and more. To discourage wild animals in the camp area, foods should be stored in sealed containers.  

Parents should also help their child become familiar with poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Instruct your child to avoid these plants. If your child comes in contact with any of these poisonous plants, they should wash or shower immediately and remove their clothing. Clothing should be washed if it has urushiol, the residue from poisonous plants, on the surface. Most importantly, have the avoid scratching, as it may lead to infection. Camp staff should have over-the-counter creams or lotions to reduce itching on hand.

3. Dodge Bug Bites

Because your child will be outdoors, it is important to provide protection against insect and bug bites. Preventing mosquitoes and ticks will help your child avoid the diseases they carry.  Insect repellents that contain DEET will help fight the bite. Parents can also protect their child from insect bites by packing long sleeves, long pants, and light-colored clothing, which shows ticks more easily. Ticks should be checked for daily and removed promptly if spotted.

4. Prevent Sunburn

Children should be taught how to apply and reapply sunscreen correctly.  Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to exposure, should be rated at least SPF 15, and labeled for UVA and UVB protection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Also be advised that just because the sun isn’t out on a cloudy day, your child can still suffer from sunburn. Sun has the strongest UV rays between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Remember to pack long sleeves and long pants (if your child will wear them), wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses. These simple items work with sunscreen to better protect your child from UV rays and give great protection to sensitive areas such as the face, scalp, eyes, ears and neck.

5. Regulate the Temperature

Most parents think of heat exhaustion or heat stroke when it comes to temperature-related illnesses.  However, if your child will be spending the night outdoors, they may be at risk for hypothermia on those cool nights and mornings.  Make sure you supply adequate bedding and clothing for your child to stay warm. Also, send a plastic ground cloth to place on the ground between your child and their sleeping bag to keep them dry and warm.

To prevent heat related illnesses, instruct your child to avoid extended exposure in the sun and to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Let your child know they should drink all day rather than waiting until they become thirsty.  Signs of dehydration include dry, cracked lips or mouth; drowsiness or irritability; cold or dry skin; and inability to urinate for eight hours or more. Heat exhaustion symptoms include dizziness, headache, confusion, nausea, and increased sweating.  Heat stroke, which is considered a serious condition, includes symptoms such as change in behavior, flushed skin, increased heat rate or breathing, and no sweating. Make sure the summer camp your kids will be attending has trained camped personnel that recognize these warning signs early on.

6. Pack Right

It is always a good idea to pack a first-aid kit for your child even if the camp has one. Good things to include are: bandages/Band-Aids (all sizes), sterile water, sterile gauze pads, adhesive tape, alcohol wipes, cotton balls, Q-tips, soap or hand sanitizer, and an elastic bandage. If your child has allergies, make sure you have packed antihistamines or an Epi-pen for severe food/environmental/insect allergies. As noted above, make sure you have completed any needed paperwork with your doctor from home and the camp for both prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Need a Camp Physical or Fast Access Care?

If your child needs a camp or sports physical, you can reserve a time online for a same-day physical with Cone Health’s InstaCare. InstaCare is open seven days a week and provides high quality, fast access care. Adults and children can also get care for acute illnesses, such as rashes, bug bites, coughs, fevers, urinary tract infections, and more. Learn more about InstaCare, conditions we treat, or reserve your spot now.


Christie Leath, NP

Post Author:

Christie Leath, FNP-C at InstaCare.