How To Survive an American Heatwave, With Kids and Pets

(Photo: Fotolia)

(Photo: Fotolia)

I used to relish the two or three truly hot days that our miserable British climate provides annually. As an expat in the U.S., however, I dread the long, hot, squelchy summer. But I’ve learned how to survive it. Knowing what to do to keep cool in the extreme heat is doubly important if, like me, you’re controlling the temperature for a child or animal. I’m the proud owner a 17-month-old human, who views the New York summer with the level of contempt she usually reserves for the kid down the road who steals her ball. Here’s how we stay cool on those days when the thermostat tips 90 degrees.

Air conditioning
Please don’t do what I did when I first arrived in NYC in mid June and think you can make do with a couple of box fans and occasionally sticking your head in the freezer. You really can’t. I know air conditioners are pricey and can be complicated to fit. They’re also noisy and expensive to run. But if you’re not lucky enough to live somewhere with integrated A/C, you should invest in one or two units – either the window mounted kind or free standing. Otherwise, be prepared to sleep terribly and sweat indelible misery patches onto your sheets. If you have kids or pets, it’s even more important to control the heat inside. A baby’s safety and comfort relies upon you making sure the temperature is somewhere in the region of 68 degrees. You might also need to simultaneously run a cool humidifier to ensure the air isn’t too dry for your youngster.

Shady areas, hats and sunscreen… yes, even for animals
If your pets and kids spend a lot of time outside—even in the early morning before the sun is at its strongest—make sure they have shady spots to roam. Exposure to bright, hot sun anytime of day can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion and sunburn. A good quality, full-spectrum sun block (ideally factor 30) is essential to guard against burning and skin cancer. It’s true people need some sun exposure to top up our vitamin D levels, but this can be achieved in a few short minutes’ frolicking in bright sunlight with a good amount of skin exposed. Then, get yourself and your kids slavered up or covered up. Top off the look with a wide-brimmed hat. Cats and dogs that spend time outside in the bright sun may also need to be protected.

Walkies at dawn
As anyone with a dog or child knows, they need a lot of exercise. If you don’t want them running laps in your living room and tearing up the sofa, then you need to take them outside. In the hot summer, the best time for this is as early as you can manage it. Because taking a kid or critter for a run around in the midday July sun is roughly about as fun as jogging on hot coals. o, as soon as you’re up, get out. Eat breakfast on the move; shove some ice in kiddo/Fido’s water; fill up a spray bottle (the type you use to spritz house plants) and head for the park. Mist yourself, the kids and any animals in your charge intermittently. Back home you can give them a soap-free bath to cool off without over washing and irritating their skin. Probably best not to dunk the kid and the dog together, mind.

Get your shopping delivered
Do not attempt to food shop manually in the summer if you have access to an online delivery service like FreshDirect. If this isn’t an option, many US supermarkets offer free delivery, so at least you won’t have to schlep bags home with an angry baby and hot dog in tow.

Frequent watering
Drink water. Lots of it. If you think you’ve had enough, drink some more. And always have water within reach for your children and animals, even if you’re inside with the A/C blasting. Air conditioning actually leaches moisture out of the atmosphere so you’ll be thirstier than usual.

What tips do you may to keep children and pets cool in the U.S. heat? Tell us below:

See more:
Summer in America: 10 Tips for Visiting Brits
Toni Hargis: What I Miss About British Summers

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • MontanaRed

    I would suggest locating public (outdoor) swimming pools, splash parks, and beaches nearest you, as well. Put the heat to good use by pairing it up with cool water.

  • Lindsey

    90 degrees would be a rather cool summer day for me lol.

  • Will

    If you’re in the South, you won’t need a humidifier, but you may want to invest in a dehumidifier. We are humid enough as is.

    • laurie

      It can be very humid in NYC, where she lives, but not when your doors and windows are closed and you running air conditioning. Being indoors in air conditioning is drier than being indoors in a heated building during the winter.

  • Marsha Smith

    I remember when we used to live without A/C. I live in the South. Even then the heat bothered me but everyone else was living with it, so I guessed you were supposed to feel miserable. I was a kid. Now, during the summertime, I just hibernate in my fully A/C apartment because the heat gives me something called *abdominal migraines.* Google it if you don’t believe me. However, I thought about the trick with the spray bottle years ago and use it inside the house. I’m 57 and everyone says I have beautiful skin. Ceiling fans can also be quite helpful.

  • Jwb52z

    If you live in a rural area like I do, you can’t get groceries delivered because no company will go where I live to deliver them out in the middle of nowhere. Another poster was right about the humidity in the South. Humidity is evil if you also have oppressive 100 plus degree heat for days on end as the South is capable of having several years at a stretch during each Summer.

    • Marsha Smith

      I would also absolutely love to have my groceries delivered but nobody has ever heard of that where I live.

      • laurie

        Again, Ruth lives in NYC like I do, so we have to walk to the store, usually several stores, and carry everything home, sometimes up many flights of stairs. That is why she is recommending delivery. If you drive to the supermarket, you are your own delivery person.

        • Violette Retancourt

          This. Forget hauling 20 pounds of groceries six blocks and up two flights of stairs in July. Not happening. It’s a different story when your “walk” consists of the store door to your car, then from the garage to the kitchen.

  • catmom3

    Of course everyone’s tolerance and health issues are different but I manage quite well with fans. I don’t use box fans, I use tower or floor fans that oscillate. With the windows open, they will keep you comfortable unless you prefer a really low temperature. Be sure to keep windows open when using fans, otherwise you turn your home into a convection oven. There are always several deaths reported during heatwaves, people who closed the house up tight and turned on fans.

  • Rachel

    I recommend trying to survive an Australian heatwave first! If you don’t want to deal with two weeks to a month of constant 45*+ (around 120*F), even at night, after about six months of absolutely no rain whatsoever in South Australia, you might like to try somewhere more northerly, such as Darwin or Queensland, where you’ll also get torrential downpour every afternoon, as well as the aforementioned temperatures. But hey, at least we speak the same sort of English!
    (In South Australia, anyway – I can’t guarantee the other states, about Adelaideans are always asked “Whereabouts in England are you from?” when they venture interstate.)
    Or, you could just spend a week in Singapore. That’s trying even for someone whose parents “absconded to the Colonies” (to use my grandmother’s words) and raised her in country SA.

  • Gwynneth

    The food delivery thing is a problem outside cities. This when you become a night creature and find a store that is open after things cool down, usually a larger one. Try to buy in bulk and freeze things. Cook with your microwave or make cold meals like salads and sandwiches.

    For the kids, try bringing them to large, indoor spaces that are air-conditioned and have places for kids to play.

    In the country, many rural areas and small towns have recreation areas, both outside with pools or inside, such as churches or schools, offering places for kids and even adults. In the warmer states, like Florida, many people enjoy “Mall-walking” to get some exercise. Not the most aesthetic thing but better than doing nothing!

    Make friends with someone who has a pool or a finished basement. They’ll welcome you more if you show up with treats (maybe even some iced tea!) for their kids. Or, if you have a yard, buy a kiddie pool for younger kids and don’t be afraid to share it! Just keep it clean.

    Best bet: save up and rent a vacation spot at the sea or on a lake!