How families can stay calm (and cool) and have fun during the heat wave?


It seems like no matter where I go in the past couple days people are talking about the current heat wave. Although it’s New England in the summertime and we do expect it to be hot, the heat in the last couple days is above and beyond our typical summer heat.

Parents have unforeseen challenges during a heat wave. The weather looks fabulous outside and the urge is to get out and enjoy,  and yet being outside for any length of time can be stressful when it’s this hot!

An obvious choice on typical summer day would be the beach. A day like today poses the question of Can the kids take an entire day outside at the beach or somewhere else outside in this heat?  Children are more heat sensitive than adults and just like being in prolonged cold, they have fewer resources to draw from when they feel overheated.

Parents need to respond with thought and preparation. They need to know that people tend to be more reactive and have faster, hotter, tempers during a heat wave. Research shows that during a heat spell, violent and aggressive behavior is likely to increase and one reason for this that uncomfortably hot temperatures increase irritability, which in turn increases aggressive behavior.

What can parents do you keep tension down and keep themselves and their children more comfortable, despite the unbearable heat and humidity of the current heat wave?

Limit activities. Parents should consider doing less rather than more. This may mean more hours inside, but if people are more comfortable inside or at least, sitting in the shade, that’s important to recognize.

Parents need to listen to your own internal guide. If they are feeling the heat, the kids feel it at least twice as much, if not more.

Children may not act overheated immediately, it may seem like they are having a blast and then they hit a wall unexpectedly. Parents should anticipate this and limit activities and be prepared to provide additional support when their child starts to complain they want to leave or that they can’t help carry the beach belongings because they are really tired.

Keep expectations low and pace the family  activities by deciding to spend only a certain number of hours outside and then commit to going to an air conditioned movie, or watching one at home under some fans. Take a planned siesta like the Mediterranean countries do from 1-3 daily. During a traditional siesta, all activity stops, and people regroup instead of struggling in the hot sun and humid air.

Spread out while at home. Close proximity can escalate tempers during a heat wave.

Parents need to be good to themselves. Today may be a day to let a few things go and just try to relax and be cool.

Parents can listen to their children’s warning signs. If they’re   unusually cranky and irritable, take that as a sign that they’re not doing well and they need more support from you. Parents who can be proactive will be able to get everyone to a more comfortable, better place faster.

Parents need to remember that just being the water and cooled off is not protection from the sun. Limit the kids time in direct sun, monitor their fluid intake, expect the appetite to be less, and have an umbrella to keep direct sunlight off kids who are sitting outside on the beach.

The key to enjoying family time during a heat wave is not overdoing it and remember  the basis  for a  fun, family day is how well people get along and enjoy eachother, not where they are!

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to, or


One Comment

  1. Really informative article. Much obliged.