How to get your child fresh air, sunlight during the hot summer months

If it's hot for you, it's especially hot for your little one because children heat up much quicker. On warm days, pediatric critical care Dr. Jenna Wheeler recommends keeping your child in the shade, hydrated and allow for lots of airflow.

Parents will try anything to get their little one to sleep through the night, and getting fresh air is an integral part of helping babies learn sleep cycles, but when the heat index is above 90, it can be hard to fit in that outdoor time.

Getting in some sunlight and keeping children safe with a few adjustments is still possible.

Dr. Jenna Wheeler, a pediatric critical care physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida, treats children in critical condition, including some suffering from heat-related exposure.

Wheeler explains why checking the heat index before you head to the playground with the family is essential. If it's hot for you as an adult, it's especially warm for your little one.

"Children's bodies heat up much quicker, so they're much quicker to get dehydrated. It's much easier for their sensitive skin to become sunburned," Wheeler said. "We don't always think about the fact that in warmer climates, kids tend to run around without shoes. But this time of year, the ground gets really hot."

If your baby is over six months old, ensure they are wearing sunscreen and keep them in the shade if they are younger. For newborns and babies under six months, Wheeler suggests spending time on a covered porch or utilizing an umbrella or tent.

Having a breeze or airflow under the shade is important too. Investing in a stroller fan for those walks can help.

"If you're putting them under something, make sure that there's good airflow," Wheeler said. "Sometimes people talk about covering a stroller with a blanket, that can actually increase the heat within that environment."

Blocking the airflow in a stroller can actually increase the temperature your little one is experiencing.  

How hot is too hot to play outside?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a heat index above 90 degrees can pose a greater risk of heat-related threats to children. Wheeler said not just to consider the temperature but the heat index or "feels like" temperature, which can be much hotter.

The time of day and where you will be outside are also important.

"If you need to be outside, then maybe avoid the middle of the day or an area in direct sunlight," Wheeler said. "Some playgrounds have shade over them; some don't. And paying attention even to the heat or playground equipment and the buckles in cars. All of those things are really important to look at."

Young babies are often up early in the morning, which might be the best time for a walk. A pre-bedtime walk in the evening could also help avoid the day's peak heat. 


However, even if it's cloudy, there are still effects of the sun to be concerned about.

"Making sure even when it's cloudy to have children appropriately covered – maybe a little hat, sunglasses, sunscreen applied-- the clouds don't protect you from some of the damage that the sun can cause," Wheeler said.

When it's too hot to safely spend time outside, Wheeler said getting natural light by a window indoors is still beneficial. Natural light helps babies get into a sleep cycle or circadian rhythm, the pattern of knowing what time of day they should sleep and when they should be awake. 

Greatest dangers in warm weather

When your child is playing and having a good time, they won't think to stop for a drink. Wheeler said to bring along plenty of water and ice to keep them hydrated.

"Kids love to play. They play until they're so tired, and so just making sure, you know, the grown-ups who are supervising them, every little bit take time to say, 'Hey, let's pause for a minute and have a water break,' because otherwise what happens is often the kids don't start to want water until they're already at the point of a decent amount of dehydration," Wheeler said.


There are signs to look for to know when it's time to come indoors. Wheeler said flushed cheeks, sweaty skin and slowing down are signs your child could be overheating.

If symptoms progress and your child suffers from nausea or becomes sleepy, they are at risk of heat exhaustion. 

"Those are all things that are kind of escalating that this is really a time that you need to pay close attention and bring your child in. If the child gets past that point, we start seeing their skin getting dry despite the heat. That becomes something that can be a medical emergency, and your kids can get heatstroke," Wheeler said. "They can get a significant heat injury and may need to seek medical care."

Sadly, on average, 38 children die in hot cars every year, according to Kids and Car Safety. Two children in Florida have died this year after being left inside hot vehicles.

Even leaving a child in a vehicle with the windows down is not enough, warns Wheeler. When it's 80 degrees outside, a car can be 40 to 50 degrees hotter. 

"A car can heat up a significant amount very quickly. And we often forget about that," Wheeler said.