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How to: Keep your kids SunSmart

January 2012

It's not easy but the best thing you can do is be persistent and cover up yourself when it comes to encouraging your children to use sun protection: make it normal and non-negotiable.

Especially when they are little, your kids rely on and look to you for guidance. When they get older you can offer them more choice, for example letting them choose which sunscreen you buy and what shirt or hat they wear. Here are some simple tips on what you can do to help keep your kids SunSmart.

  • Be a role model – Like mini-me is to Austin Powers, your kids are to you. Did you know that Aussie kids are 16 times more likely to use sunscreen if their parents do? This is why it is so important that you role model sun safe behaviour.

  • Check the SunSmart app on your smartphone – make it routine that you, and your kids, check the sun protection times for your locality each day. It's not heat or temperature but UV level that causes skin and eye damage.  In summer, even when it's cloudy and cool the UV can be at damaging levels so you'll need sun protection.

  • Remember all five SunSmart steps – make sure you teach your kids the importance of using all five sun protection methods. One or two just aren't enough, a combo of all of them is best. For example, although wearing a hat with a large brim offers some protection from eye damage it does little to protect the shoulders – a frequent target for sunburn. You get better protection by wearing a hat, sunnies and a shirt with 3/4 length sleeves.

  • Slip on some protective clothing. Loose-fitting clothes and wraps are best for babies and toddlers, while it's particularly important that kids cover shoulders and arms (as these are places where children regularly get burnt). Also, try to buy fabrics that have a UV protection factor (UPF) the higher the better; UPF15 is good and UPF50 is excellent protection.

  • Slop on some SPF30+ sunscreen. Apply sunscreen to all body areas that aren't covered by clothing. If your child has sensitive skin, try sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These types reflect UV radiation away from the skin, and are less likely to cause skin reactions. Test sunscreen on a small patch of your child's skin to make sure they don't react to it before applying more broadly. Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours – if your child is swimming or building up a sweat apply even more frequently. Encourage your child to help you apply their sunscreen. (Children with naturally very dark skin may not need to apply sunscreen as high levels of melanin in their skin can act to protect against UV over exposure. However, this is an individual choice for parents to make and really depends on the child’s skin type.)

  • Slap on a hat. Hats provide shade to the face, back of neck and ears, and hats with brims can reduce UV radiation to the eyes by 50%. Ideally, use legionnaire-style hats, bucket hats and broad-brimmed hats, not baseball caps – these don't offer proper sun protection. If you have a young baby, use a hat made of soft fabric so it will crumple easily when they put their head down. Some children don't like to wear hats, but persistence is needed to teach them that when their hat's on, the fun's on! Find something comfortable and cool and remember your broad brimmed hat, it's all about practising what you preach. If your child's hat is secured with a strap or toggle make sure the strap has a safety snap or place the strap at the back of the child's head, also trim the length to make sure it doesn't become a choking hazard.

  • Seek shade. Try to choose shady parks or play spaces. When travelling use a shade visor or hang a blanket over the side windows of the car; if you are outside make sure you move when the shade moves; and if you have a baby make sure their pram has a hood or shade cover. For the best protection, pram shade covers should be made from densely woven fabrics, with a mesh section (so the child can see and so air can circulate). The fabric section should be UPF50+ and the mesh section should block at least 70% of UV radiation.

  • Slide on sunglasses. Choose close-fitting, wrap-around style sunnies that cover as much of the eye as possible. Make sure your child's sunglasses meet the Australian Standard AS1067 and that they're not just toy or fashion sunglasses.

Australia and New Zealand are the skin cancer capitals of the world. Every year, 1,830 Australians die from skin cancer – that's more than the national road toll.

Through childhood and adolescent years the amount of overexposure to the sun's UV rays sets up a road map of your potential risk of skin cancer as a young adult or later in life. 

There is no need, nor is it practical, to restrict you or your child to being inside when the UV is off the scale, but no matter whether you are 6, 16, or 60 remembering to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide could save your life from skin cancer. 

For more information visit the SunSmart website.

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