Helping your toddler be sun smart

If encouraging your kids to put on sunscreen and wear a hat is a constant battle - you’re not alone. These tips may help your kids embrace the sun smart mantra.

Here in Australia we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. So it’s really important to equip your children with sun smart skills early.

Before I had children my idea of being sun smart was a hat if I remembered it, maybe some sunscreen early on in the day, and then a whole lot of regret in the evening. 

When my twins were born with red hair and fair skin, I knew I was going to have to step it up. Here are some ideas that worked for me. 

Make ‘the outside’ synonymous with wearing a hat

It sounds simple enough, but for young children it can be quite a struggle to get them to put a hat on. The constant battle can result in hats going in the ‘too hard basket’.

But placing a ‘hat box’ next to the door with a choice of hats can be a real help. It can serve as a reminder to you, and you can help instil a ‘do not pass go’ mentality whereby a hat goes on the head before the door gets opened. Having a choice of hats is great too, providing the kids with some decision making fun. 

And remember, this includes you. It’s important to practise what you preach. Nowadays, if I forget about my own hat, my children call me on it straight away.

Persist with the hat, even when it seems like it’s never going to stay on

While the hat may be on when they walk out the door, the job is far from over. It can quickly become annoying for a child once they’re out having fun. At times it was like getting the kids to eat brussel sprouts on the time out step, but thankfully perseverance paid off.
You may find that when you try to reapply your child’s hat, they resist and take it straight back off again. Try leaving it off for a minute or two, until they have their focus on something else, before casually slipping it back on. As soon as it’s back on, see if you can distract them with whatever it was they were doing before you brought this inconvenient accessory back into their lives.
It’s also worth trying a few different hat styles. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends broad-brimmed, legionnaire (a cap with cloth falling down the sides and back), or bucket style hats. I’ve found that the broad-brimmed hat with an adjustable tie on it works best for my headstrong boys. My eldest likes it because it stops it falling off while he’s running about (a major frustration) and my youngest likes it because he can suck on the end of the tie. 
Perseverance is the key, even when it’s on the verge of sending you mad, because eventually, without warning, it’ll start to stay put.
sunsafe boy with Dad

Make sunscreen fun and part of a ‘going outside routine’ too

The Cancer Council of Australia recommends applying sunscreen at least 20 minutes before heading out in the sun. A great way to avoid forgetting about the sunscreen and getting it on early is to build it into a ‘going outside routine’. Before the hat goes on, the sunscreen needs to be applied. And try to keep it near the door where the hats are as a visual prompt.

Having a few different types of sunscreen works well too. It’s a great way to keep the interest up and make it less of a chore. There are the traditional squeeze bottles, larger pump-action containers, pump-action sprays, spray cans and even roll-ons to choose from. We’ve got them all and use each in different circumstances on different days. If we’re in a hurry we use the spray can. If we’re going to the beach we use the squeeze bottle to make sure we get maximum protection. And the application of the sunscreen can become a joint activity too. The twins love the roll-on because they can have a go at doing it themselves.

And don’t forget to reapply every few hours. I’ve found the best way to ensure this happens, for a ‘sun-forgetful’ person like me, is to build it into a kind of ‘after food routine’. Just like washing hands before food, we have a ‘reapply sunscreen after food’ routine.

Seek out the shade or make your own

While sunscreen and a hat tend to be key for children and sun protection, seeking out shade is another great way to avoid UV radiation exposure and sunburn. For us, if we can’t find any shade where we’re going, we limit the time we spend there. With the fair skin that our twins have, it’s just not worth taking the chance.

A great way to make sure you’re never without shade is to have one of those sun shade tents and/or a gazebo on standby. Tents can be great protection for the beach while the gazebo is a handy source of self-made shade for a park or even at home.

We make extra use of the gazebo during summer in our own backyard because it’s just so much less stressful knowing that the paddling pool and sandpit are not in the sun. It also helps keep the kids cool on the really warm days.

Being vigilant about sun protection for your children early on can really set them up for being sun smart later in life. It can also help those ‘sun-forgetful’ parents, like me, turn over a new leaf. 
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