Kids Health Info

Safety: Holidays and at the beach

  • Holidays are a time when children and families can look forward to relaxing and spending time together without the usual distractions of work, school and day-to-day routines. However, the absence of a familiar home environment, along with new activities and toys, can sometimes result in injuries.

    Trips to the beach or the bush can be lots of fun and very rewarding, but extra care needs to be taken to ensure your child remains safe.

    At the beach

    Never take your eyes off children in, on or around water. Supervision means constant visual contact, not the occasional glance. You should actively supervise children even if they can swim.

    • Beaches patrolled by lifesavers are the safest for your child to swim at. Teach your child to swim between the red and yellow flags, which means that part of the beach is patrolled by lifesavers.
    • Pay attention to any warning signs at the beach, which warn about things like submerged rocks or strong currents.
    • Teach children the potential risks of big waves, dumping waves and a powerful undertow.
    • Be careful playing on rocks in the water. There is a danger of being stranded by the incoming tide or being swept away by a big wave.
    • Encourage children to wear sandals or thongs to avoid cuts and injuries from glass, rocks or syringes. The sand can also be burning hot for young feet on days when the sun is shining.
    • Provide protection from the sun with hats, sunscreens and swimsuits or loose-fitting clothes that cover the body. See our fact sheet Safety: Sun protection
    • Teach children to leave sea creatures alone because of the risk of stings or bites.

    Rip currents

    Rips are strong currents that flow away from the shore out past the waves. They can be tricky to spot as they are complex and can change quickly. However, there are some specific signs that can indicate the presence of a rip. If you look for an area where the waves are breaking consistently, a rip may be in an area nearby where there are fewer breaking waves. Other key signs to look for include:

    • deeper, darker water
    • foamy, sandy, discoloured water flowing beyond the wave zone
    • a rippled surface surrounded by smooth waters.

    Teach school-aged children what to do if they are caught in a rip. They should:

    • stay calm and raise an arm to attract attention
    • float on their back – the current may flow in a circular pattern and return your child to shore 
    • try swimming parallel to the beach, out of the rip – do not try to swim against the rip back to shore as the current will be too strong.

    In the bush

    Wear sensible clothes when walking in the bush – sturdy shoes and adequate clothing should be worn to protect against snake or insect bites, and to protect against sudden changes in weather.

    Fitted clothing is safer around campfires and barbecues than baggy clothing, and remember that campfires left to burn out overnight often contain enough heat the following morning to cause severe burns to bare feet.

    Going on a bush walk

    Be well prepared and take safety precautions when taking children on bush walks.

    • Check weather forecasts for fire danger days.
    • Tell someone when and where you are going.
    • Carry sufficient water and often stop for rest breaks and snacks. Remember young children have limited capacity for long walks, especially if the terrain is hilly and challenging. A rough guide for maximum walking distances for children is one kilometre for every year of their age.
    • Take care if swimming in rivers or waterholes. Check the depth of the water and look out for submerged branches and other hidden obstacles.
    • Make sure you have sufficient sun protection, including hats, sunscreen and appropriate clothes. Sunburn can occur even in the dappled light of the bush.
    • Stick to established trails and keep clear of cliffs. 
    • Take a first aid kit with you. 
    • For information on preventing and dealing with bites or stings, see our fact sheets Insect repellents – guidelines for safe use and Insect bites and stings.

    Travelling by car

    If travelling by car, make sure that child car restraints are appropriate for your child's size and are correctly fitted. See our fact sheet Safety: Child car seats.  

    • If the drive is a long one, dress your child in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and stop at regular intervals to give them a break and a chance to stretch their legs.
    • Children get bored easily and can distract the driver, so have age-appropriate toys or books that can occupy young minds, together with snacks and drinks.
    • Never leave children or pets alone in the car. The temperature inside a car can rise to dangerous levels very quickly, even on a cool day.

    Travelling overseas

    Check any travel warnings for the country you are visiting on the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website, and ensure all vaccinations for the family are up to date for the country you are planning to visit. Even if you are travelling without your children, it is important you are vaccinated, as you could put young children at risk when you return if you have been exposed to a virus or illness overseas. You should also check if you need malaria prophylaxis in the country you are visiting.

    • Visit your GP or a travel clinic at least eight weeks before your trip to discuss any health issues and vaccination requirements for you and your children.
    • Make photocopies of your passports – take a copy with you and leave another copy with friends or family at home. 
    • Make sure you know the emergency phone numbers in the countries you are visiting.
    • Take out travel insurance.

    New toys and play equipment

    Holidays are a peak time for injuries from bikes and skateboards, or injuries from new toys.

    • Only allow your child to play with age-appropriate toys that meet Australian safety standards.
    • Make sure your child learns how to use new equipment, e.g. bikes, skateboards, scooters, in-line skates, trampolines and play equipment. Supervise them until they are confident and capable.
    • Insist on your child wearing appropriate safety equipment, e.g. helmets, reflective gear and light-coloured clothing when cycling; helmets, wrist guards, knee- and elbow-pads when skating. It’s a good idea to include these in the gift for the child.
    • Trampolines are not recommended for children under six years of age.

    For more information read our fact sheets Safety: Backgrounds and playgrounds and Safety: Toys

    Key points to remember

    • Being away from the familiar home environment, along with new activities and toys, can sometimes result in holiday injuries.
    • When going away, prepare for a range of weather conditions and always actively supervise children in new environments, especially around water.
    • At the beach, swim between the flags and teach school-aged children what to do if they are caught in a rip.
    • When travelling overseas, check for travel warnings and visit a doctor or travel clinic at least eight weeks before your trip.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    We are travelling overseas and have been told we need some vaccines. Are these safe for my child?

    Travel vaccines are safe for children, but each vaccine has different rules around dose, frequency and age. For example, hepatitis A vaccine is given from 12 months of age, typhoid from two years of age and BCG (tuberculosis vaccine) is safe from birth. It is best to discuss your travel plans with your doctor as your destination will change what vaccines are needed for your child.

    How can I prevent my child getting travel sick?

    Your local pharmacy or chemist will have a range of travel sickness or anti-nausea tablets, along with some other remedies such as pressure bands. Not all of these options are suitable for children, so talk to your pharmacist before giving any to your child. Usually, it’s more effective to give the medication half an hour before you start travelling.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Community Information. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

Kids Health Info app

The app will enable you to search and browse more than three hundred medical fact sheets and work offline.

Apple store Google play


Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.