Parents may be convinced by stats and facts about the dangers of too much sun, but it may take some effort to make believers out of their kids. In addition to explanations about why it’s important to take precautions in the sun, it helps to let kids participate in planning their protection. Visual aids, charts and choices can lead to compliance when it comes to avoiding too much sun.
Conduct a sun protection experiment. Using sunscreen, spray a brightly colored sheet of construction paper with a simple design. Put the sprayed piece outside in a spot where it will be exposed to several hours of direct sun. Examine the results. Point out to kids how faded the areas are that have not been protected by sunscreen and explain that this effect is what happens to their skin in direct sunlight.
Give kids who are old enough responsibility for remembering and applying sunscreen. Make sure the sunscreen is one labeled “broad spectrum” so that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Give kids a timer for themselves and tell them that whenever they’re going outside to play, they need to put on sunscreen and then set the timer for 15 minutes before going out. Teach kids this little rhyme to help them remember specific areas where they need to apply sunscreen: “Lips, ears, forehead, nose; shoulders, hands, neck and toes.”
Go hat shopping and take several of your child’s friends along. If they’re not the only kids wearing hats, the chances are much more likely that they’ll be compliant about wearing them. Talk about how hats with brims can provide “portable” shade. Let kids try on various hats, admiring themselves in large mirrors. Some schools have adopted a “hats at recess” policy; you might look into working with a parent-teacher organization to bring the campaign to your kids’ school.
Protect your eyes and your kids will be more likely to protect theirs. If they see you wearing sunglasses daily, it will seem like the natural thing to do. Let them pick out their own sunglasses as long as they choose a pair with lenses that provide complete protection against UVA and UVB rays. Explain some of the rationale behind the practice; for example, they should know that even one day in hot sunlight could result in a burned cornea.
Help your child make a large poster board sun clock. Use white or light blue for the background and glue on construction paper wedges of yellow, orange and red to illustrate the idea that between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., exposure to sun is the strongest. Using a brass brad, available at hobby and craft shops, make movable hands from black poster board. When kids are heading out to play, ask them to show the time on their sun clock and to make adequate preparations, which may mean not going outside at all between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the hottest days.