Tips to help keep children safe in or around water this summer.
Published: April 28, 2016
By: Paige Townley
Summer is synonymous with swimming. And whether at the pool, at the lake or at the beach, it’s important to practice water safety – especially with children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 1 through 4 have the highest drowning rates. In fact, drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1 to 4 than any other cause except birth defects. Among children ages 1 to 14, drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.
To avoid becoming one of these statistics, there are many steps that can be taken to keep children safe in or around water.
Expose Children Early
Expose children as early as possible to the water. “By the time a child gets older, they have had time for fears to firmly establish,” says Laysea Chasteen, director of aquatics for the Hoover Family Branch of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham. “If that happens, it’s so much harder to break those fears and move past them.”
That exposure to the water, adds Dollie Brice, instructor at Samford University and head of the Samford Summer Swim Program, can come from numerous places, not just a pool. “With little ones, let the water trickle down over their faces in the kitchen sink, or get the hose in the back yard,” she says. “Kids naturally love the water, and it can be so much fun. Have fun with them and expose them to water as soon as safely possible in the context that you can.”
With children, supervision is important at all times. “Young children under the age of 4 should be within an arm’s reach of an adult at all times so that if something happens, the adult can easily reach and get them,” says Brice.
If an emergency does occur, it’s important to have the proper rescue equipment by the pool, as well as a phone nearby so someone can call 911 immediately. And even if a child is swimming in a public setting with lifeguards on duty, parents or a designated responsible adult should actively supervise children. “If your child is around water, stay off of your cell phone or anything that takes your attention away from your child,” Chasteen adds. “Being on the phone is essentially the same as leaving them unsupervised.”
Even when children aren’t in the pool, there are still many steps to be taken to ensure an accident doesn’t occur. Barriers at least four feet high with gates that are self-closing should completely surround a pool, and a pool (or hot tub) should always be covered when not in use. Toys should be kept away from the pool when not in use, inflatable toys should be deflated, and tricycles and other riding toys should never be used near the pool. “If you have a backyard pool, consider placing a safety alarm on it,” Brice adds. “There are different versions depending on the pool type, and it alerts you if something is in the pool. Most alarms have an in-house remote that receives alerts up to 200 feet away from the pool.”
It’s important to follow pool rules in a public setting, but parents should also create guidelines that the entire family understands and follows. “Establish rules for your family and enforce them without fail,” Chasteen says. “For example, set limits based on each person’s ability. Do not let anyone play around drains and suction fittings, and do not allow swimmers to hyperventilate before swimming under water or have breath-holding contests.”
Schedule Swim Lessons
One of the best ways to ensure a child is safe around the water is enrolling them in swim lessons with a certified swim instructor. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that children are not ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday (because they cannot voluntarily hold their breath for significant amounts of time before that age).
Although the AAP believes infants and toddlers aren’t immune from drowning after participating in swim lessons, lessons at an age younger than 4 could help teach a child to love the water and potentially help parents become more comfortable having their child in and around water.
“We offer a parent and child class for children as young as 6 months up to the age of 3, which is a great way for not only the child to adjust to water but also parents as well,” says D’Awvalo Turnipseed, supervisor of the aquatics department at St. Vincent’s One-Nineteen. “The class promotes water safety while getting children comfortable in the water. It’s a great way to build a child’s confidence so that they aren’t scared of water later on. The class also demonstrates to parents some safety tips they should take when in and around water as well. So it’s beneficial to both parent and child.”
Swim programs typically vary as to the age children can enroll, and some offer private lessons in addition to group classes. When selecting a program, parents should always select a class that fits their child’s personality and ability. Adds Chasteen, “We encourage parents to enroll [their child] in private swim lessons until at least the age of 3, then after that they can choose between private or group lessons.”
Paige Townley is a Birmingham based freelance writer.
Safety around water should always be top priority. Here are other tips to follow:
- Never swim alone. Always swim with a buddy.
- Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
- Young children or inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water.
- Make sure the pool is clear and clean and you can see the bottom.
- Never go head first into water less than nine feet deep.
- If a child is missing, always check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.
- Enroll in home pool safety, water safety, first aid, and CPR/AED courses to learn how to prevent and respond to emergencies.