How Hot Is Too Hot for Your Kids to Play Outside?

We are now officially past Memorial Day, the kickoff of summer, and many of us want to be outside and enjoy the beautiful weather for as long as possible — especially if you braved a particularly cold, icy, or rainy winter or spring. As tempting as it is to head straight to the beach to cool off and relax when temperatures start to soar, it’s important to remember that children can get very hot in a short amount of time, especially when they run around and play. But how hot is too hot for a day at the park, the beach, or out on the lawn?

To find out more, we spoke with some pediatricians about when it’s too hot for our kids to be outside in the summer months, what we can do to protect them before going out in the warm weather, and signs to look for if we think kids might be getting overheated. So grab your hydration method of choice, your favorite SPF sunscreen, and your sun hat, and read on for prepping a safe summer day outside.

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It varies depending on your child’s activity level

Activity level plays a huge factor in children’s body temperatures, Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows. If it’s 100 degrees and your kids are swimming, playing with water toys and in the shade, going outside is perfectly fine if you are keeping a close eye on them. However, If they are running around in direct sunlight, a lot of kids will overheat — even if the temperature is just in the 80s and doesn’t feel quite as hot, says Posner.

A good rule of thumb is, “If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your kids,” Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows.

Pay attention to the heat index

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Caitlin Hoff, a health and safety investigator for, says you shouldn’t just pay attention to the temperature on the thermometer. Make sure to keep an eye on the humidity by looking at the heat index factor too when you check your local news or preferred weather app.

“When the heat index is 100 degrees or more (over 90 degrees with 60 percent humidity), heat exhaustion is much more probable without safety measures taken,” Hoff tells SheKnows.

Age does matter

Younger children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion because “they produce less sweat” and “are less likely to feel and understand the dangers of extreme heat,” Hoff says. Babies and toddlers’ bodies don’t have as advanced heat regulation as adults’ bodies, according to Stony Brook University Research. And from a developmental perspective, they are not typically able to recognize that they need to take off a layer of clothing or grab another sip of water.

Never skimp on water, shade or sunscreen

One of the most important things to remember is to keep your kids out of direct sunlight for long periods of time in the summer. They need shade, plenty of water, and sunscreen whenever they are outside, Ganjian says. He also recommends dressing your children in light, long-sleeve clothing and always applying a safe sunscreen on children over 6 months old (and then reapplying it every two hours and after water play). For babies under 6 months, Ganjian says they should avoid sun exposure all together to be safe.

Warning signs to look for

Posner and Ganjian both say to pay attention to the warning signs of overheating in babies, which include fever, decreased number of wet diapers, cranky behavior, or being overly tired. More red flags in older, speaking-age children include lightheadedness, nausea, intense thirst, or muscle spasms, per the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you notice these symptoms, they suggest a lukewarm bath, plenty of fluids and a call to your pediatrician.

There is a lot of fun in the sun to enjoy during the summer months, but it’s best to take the necessary precautions to make sure you and your family stay safe.

A version of this story was published July 2018.

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