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How to teach your kids to slip, slop, slap

Whether it’s riding a bike or swimming, some things are best learned from a young age. Teaching kids how to protect themselves from the sun is an important skill that they’ll carry with them through life. It becomes especially important as children reach school age and can’t rely on you to reapply their sunscreen, make sure they have their hat on or play in the shade.

Here are a few ways that you can teach your kids to be sun safe:

Set up a sunscreen station

If you’ve ever kept a packet of biscuits on the kitchen counter, you’ll know just how powerful a visual reminder can be. Having your sunscreen somewhere visible, like on a table near the front door will provide a reminder to you and your kids to put on sunscreen before you leave the house every day.

As your children get a little older, allow them to apply their own sunscreen. Placing a mirror nearby can help them to make sure that they’re reaching all the spots they need to cover, including those easy-to-forget or hard-to-reach places like feet, hands, ears, backs and shoulders. Making sunscreen application a daily habit makes it more likely that they’ll feel confident reapplying their sunscreen on their own.

Set an example

Normalizing sun safety is an important part of making it a lifelong habit and as their parent, you are the best person to demonstrate how to protect yourself from the sun. Practice sun safety every day by applying (and reapplying) sunscreen, wearing sunglasses and a hat, seeking the shade on sunny days and wearing clothes that protect you from the sun.

Make it fun

Just because sun protection is an important health issue doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Most of us will remember the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ song performed by Sid the Seagull. Just the ABS song teaches us the alphabet, teaching kids a song is a great way to help them remember what they need to do to be sun safe. For a modern rendition of Slip, Slop, Slap, check out Playschool’s Jay Laga’aia’s ‘You’ve Gotta Be SunSmart’.

It can also help to make sure that your child likes their sunglasses, hats and sun-safe clothing. Choose products in their favourite colours or that feature fun characters, or better yet, take your child with you when you shop for these items and use it as an opportunity to explain to them why sun safety is important.

A particularly great activity for artistic kids is to ask them to draw a picture of your family on a sunny day. Then, ask them to add things that will help protect you all from the suns rays. As they add each item, talk about why it’s important and which part of their body it protects.

Check the UV index

Australia has one of the highest levels of UV exposure in the world, so learning to be aware of the UV index is important. Sun protection is recommended when the UV index is 3 and above — to put that in perspective, a hot summers day can see the UV index raise to 15. The heat or visible sunshine isn’t necessarily the best indicator of UV, as you can still get burnt on cool or cloudy days. You can check the UV index on the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website, or by downloading the free SunSmart app. Not only will the app tell you the UV index, but you can also set alerts to remind you when sun protection times start each day, remind you to reapply sunscreen, or use the sunscreen calculator to tell you how much sunscreen you need depending on your outfit.

Try checking the UV index as a family and discussing how you’re going to practice sun safety that day.

Incorporate the sun into your daily routine

The sunniest time of day can vary slightly depending on where you live, but generally, 11 am to 3 pm tends to be when the suns rays are at their brightest, and we’re the most vulnerable to sun damage. Make sure that you’re kids are aware of this, and make it part of your daily routine to be inside, or especially sun safe, during these periods.

Get your school on board

We’re lucky that most schools in Australia practice sun safety. All Australian primary schools are offered access to the National SunSmart Schools Program, so there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a sun safety policy in place. That being said, there’s no harm in asking.

Check with your child’s school whether they are teaching sun safety in their curriculum, what measures they’re taking to protect students from UV rays during the day, and whether children have access to sunscreen, hats, and plenty of shade.

Make sun safety a year-round habit

We know that summer is an especially important time to protect our skin from the sun, but sun safety should be practised year-round. As mentioned above, you can get sunburnt on cool or overcast days, and practising sun safety every day makes it more likely to be second nature and part of your daily routine.

You may also be interested in the following:

Can babies wear sunscreen
Sunburn: Symptoms, treatment and prevention
Kids at the beach and what to look out for

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