It’s that time of year when South Africans from all over the country head to the coast for some well-earned beach time. If you have children, a trip to the beach is a wonderful way for kids of any age to spend the morning or afternoon – and it’s a great way for you to bond with them in a shared activity.

But the combination of a crowded beach, blazing sun and a stretch of sea with currents and waves can also spell danger for your little ones – even if they’re proficient swimmers. Here are our six top tips to make sure your children stay safe and happy while they’re at the beach:

1. Always face the sea

Even if your child can swim well, a wave that they’re not anticipating can knock them off their feet if their back is turned to the ocean, which can be very dangerous. Teach your children to always face the sea, even if they’re standing or playing in shallow water. This way, they have a visible warning of waves coming towards them at all times.

2. Swim between the flags

Rip tides and strong currents can be dangerous for adults, let alone children. Even if it’s a beautiful day and the sea seems calm, underlying currents can make swimming very dangerous. During high season, lifeguards will have assessed which area of the sea is safest to swim in and will demarcate this stretch with red and yellow flags on the beach. Teach your children to always stay between these flags while they’re in the water, and to keep checking that they’re not drifting out of it.

3. Draw a circle in the sand

Besides the danger that the sea presents, child safety on the beach also means taking precautions so that your children don’t get lost – especially if the beach is crowded. An easy way to avoid this this is to draw a large circle in the sand around where you and/or other adults with you are sitting, and tell your children to stay and play within that circle where you can keep an eye on them.

4. Write your cellphone number on their arm

Even if you watch your children closely, the hive of activity on a crowded beach means your kids can easily get separated from you. As a safety precaution, write your cellphone number in black permanent market on your child’s arm so that if they get lost, they can ask an adult nearby to phone you and let you know where they are. Make sure the pen you use is waterproof!

5. Arrange an emergency meeting point

If your children are swimming and running around on the beach, it can be difficult for them to keep track of where you are. As you arrive on the beach, point out a specific landmark to them near where you’ll be sitting – such as the lifesaving tower or a flag on the beach – and tell your child to wait there if they get lost.

6. Take precautions to protect them from the sun

December in South Africa means scorching temperatures and harsh sun, which can be especially damaging to young skins. Make sure you regularly apply a high factor sunscreen to your little one’s face and body, and have them wear a hat and a swimming costume made of UV-protective material that covers their upper body and legs. Remember to reapply sunscreen each time they’ve gone swimming, even if it’s waterproof. Finally, always have an umbrella or sun tent on the beach to provide shade for your little ones.

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.