While enjoying the water is a fun, memorable part of many people’s summers, water is one of the most ominous hazards your child will encounter. Young children can drown in only a few inches of water, even if they’ve had swimming instruction.
For youngsters in middle childhood, drowning ranks behind only motor-vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death. Most often, these tragedies occur when children swim without adequate adult supervision. In most cases, these children (and their parents) have overestimated their swimming ability and their knowledge of water-survival skills. Learn what steps you can take this summer to ensure water safety for the children around you.
Water Safety and Young Children
Swimming lessons are not a way to prevent drowning in young children; however, new evidence shows that children ages 1 to 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction. The studies are small, and they don’t define what type of lessons work best, so the American Academy of Pediatrics is not recommending mandatory swim lessons for all children ages 1 to 4 at this time. Instead, they recommend that parents should decide to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health conditions related to pool water infections and pool chemicals. The AAP does not recommend formal water safety programs for children younger than 1 year of age.
Safety training does not result in a significant increase in poolside safety skills of young children. If you do enroll a child under four years old in a swimming program, be sure the class you choose adheres to guidelines established by the national YMCA. Among other things, these guidelines forbid submersion of young children and encourage parents to participate in all activities. But remember that even a child who knows how to swim needs to be watched constantly.
Whenever your child is near water, follow these safety rules:
- Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as bathtubs, fishponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, watering cans—even the bucket you use when you wash the car. Empty containers of water when you’re done using them. Children are drawn to places like these and need constant supervision to be sure they don’t fall in.
- Children who are swimming—even in a shallow toddler’s pool—always should be watched by an adult, preferably one who knows CPR. The supervising adult should not consume alcohol which may impair their response time. The adult should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision” whenever infants, toddlers, or young children are in or around water. Empty and put away inflatable pools after each play session.
- Don’t allow your child to use inflatable toys or mattresses in place of a life jacket. These toys may deflate suddenly, or your child may slip off them into water that is too deep.
- Be sure the deep and shallow ends of any pool your child swims in are clearly marked. Never allow your child to dive into the shallow end.
- Backyard swimming pools, (including large, inflatable above-ground pools), should be completely surrounded with at least a 4-foot high fence that completely separates the pool from the house. The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate that opens away from the pool, with the latch at least 54 inches high.
- If your pool has a cover, remove it completely before swimming. Also, never allow your child to walk on the pool cover; water may have accumulated on it, making it as dangerous as the pool itself. Your child also could fall through and become trapped underneath.
- Keep a safety ring with a rope beside the pool at all times. If possible, have a phone in the pool area with emergency numbers clearly marked.
- Spas and hot tubs are dangerous for young children, who can easily drown or become overheated in them. Don’t allow young children to use spas and hot tubs.
- Your child should always wear a life jacket when he swims or rides in a boat. A life jacket fits properly if you can’t lift it off over your child’s head after he’s been fastened into it. For the child under age five, particularly the non-swimmer, it also should have a flotation collar to keep the head upright and the face out of the water.
- Be sure to eliminate distractions while children are in the water. Talking on the phone, working on the computer, and other tasks need to wait until children are out of the water.
Water Safety for Older Children
Most often, swimming tragedies in older children occur when children swim without adequate adult supervision. In most cases, these children (and their parents) have overestimated their swimming ability and their knowledge of water-survival skills.
Here are some guidelines to keep your middle-years child safe in and near the water:
- Make sure your child learns how to swim from an experienced and qualified instructor. Check for available lessons at local recreation centers, YMCAs, and summer camps.
- Never allow your child to swim alone or play by or in water away from the watchful eye of an adult. Ideally, this adult should be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When there is a group of adults, make sure one is the designated “supervisor.” Just because a group is there does not mean someone is monitoring the children. Children have drowned during “pool parties” because there wasn’t anyone specifically watching the children in the pool.
- Do not allow your child to engage in horseplay that might result in injury.
- Prohibit your child from diving unless someone has already determined the depth of the water and checked for underwater hazards.
- Do not allow your child to swim in areas where there are boats or fishermen. Nor should children swim at beaches where there are large waves, a powerful undertow, or no lifeguards.
- While riding in a boat, you and your child should always wear a personal flotation device.
- Do not permit your child to rely on an air mattress, inner tube, or inflatable toy as a life preserver. If these devices deflate, or your child slips off them, she could be in serious trouble.
- Your child should never be permitted to swim during a lightning storm.
- If you have a backyard swimming pool, it should be enclosed with high and locked fences on all four sides, especially the side that separates the house from the pool.
- When your child is old enough—usually by high school years—he or she should learn life-saving skills such as CPR, taught in most cities through community agencies or the American Red Cross.
Be sure to provide adequate adult supervision and review these tips for a safe and happy summer break!
I am currently accepting new patients (children from birth through 21) in my practice here at Deaconess Clinic Boonville.
Source of some content included in this article: American Academy of Pediatrics, June 2014