Summertime is the best time, but with fun days spent around pools, beaches and lakes, most moms are also concerned with water safety—and for good reason. “Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages one to four than any other cause except birth defects. [One mom who lost her child told me] ‘If your child doesn’t make it to kindergarten, the number one preventable reason is because they drowned,’” shares Nichole Steffens, Senior Product Manager for American Red Cross Training Services. Thousands of children fall victim to drowning each year, but there are smart steps to keep yours safe. We spoke to industry experts from the Red Cross and CDC, as well as a top swim school, to get the facts.
Prevent Unsupervised Access
“For children younger than 5, 87% of drowning fatalities happen in home pools or hot tubs; most take place in pools owned by family, friends or relatives. Home pools and hot tubs should be secured with appropriate barriers such as fencing with self-closing, self-latching gates that are out of reach of a child,” says Nichole. Secondary barrier alarms and locks on doors and windows with access to the pool or spa area are crucial. (For young kids, the CDC says pools and bathtubs are most dangerous, and then open bodies of water become the more dangerous setting once kids are older.)
Understand That Deep Water Isn’t the Only Hazard
“Children can drown in as little as 2″ of water,” says Tracy Laman of Houston Swim Club. That’s why bathtubs—not to mention baby pools—can be sneakily dangerous, because parents can be lulled into a false sense of safety. “Children need to be taught how to stand up in shallow water. A toddler can drown in a baby pool just because they topple over and don’t know how to put their feet down underneath them and stand up,” says Tracy. Even a bucket or toilet can be hazardous.
Start Lessons Early
You want to instill “water competency”, which means they can get in and out of the water safely. “If you have a pool in your yard, you should start swimming lessons as soon as the baby is mobile, between 6-9 months. Comfort in and respect for the water and underwater breath control can be learned quickly at this age. If you don’t have a pool in your yard, 9-15 months is my favorite! They are old enough to develop skills such as turning and swimming back to the wall, monkey walking along the wall, and back floating,” says Tracy. She recommends finding a teaching philosophy that you and your kids are comfortable with. “After mastery of these skills, we do a “Float Test” where a child comes dressed in their clothes and a fall into the water is simulated. The swimmer can float for 5 minutes or swim to the side, whichever comes first. Children need to know what it feels like to swim with the added weight of clothes and shoes. You don’t want the first time a child experiences this added weight to be when they accidentally fall into the water,’ says Tracy.
Choose a Life Vest Over “Swimmies”
“We strongly recommend not using any type of floatation device that goes on a child’s arms. A life jacket that is coast guard approved and fits well is a good safety measure. If you are going to use some type of floatation device this summer, a good tip is that you put it on inside the house, and it does not come off until you are back in the house, says Tracy.
Make the Pool Boring
When the pool is not being actively supervised by a water watcher, remove anything that can be used to access the pool (such as furniture or toys like bikes) and remove pool toys and floats from the water as these can attract children, notes Nichole.
Know Who is Watching
“Always designate a water watcher when children are in or around the water – even if the children know how to swim,” notes Nichole. An appropriate water watcher is:
At least 16 years of age (adults preferred).
Has the skills, knowledge, and ability to recognize and rescue someone in distress or can immediately alert someone nearby who has that capability.
Knows CPR or can immediately alert someone nearby with that skill.
Has a working phone to be able to dial 9-1-1.
Has a floating and/or reaching object that can be used in a rescue.
Is alert, free from distractions, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Underestimate Your Child’s Strength as a Swimmer
“Research has shown that adults often overestimate a child’s swimming ability and the child’s ability to save himself/herself in a life-threatening situation. Therefore, adults sometimes underestimate the need to supervise a child in or around water if they think that the child knows how to swim.16,17 Close, constant, and attentive supervision is always crucial when adults are responsible for children in or around water, even if the children know how to swim,” says Julie Eschelbach, spokesperson for the CDC. If your child doesn’t swim? You need to stay within arm’s reach.
Know that Drowning Is Usually Silent
“Parents are surprised that they didn’t hear their children when they fell in the pool,” says Tracy. “Parents think they will hear their child yell for them or make loud splashing noises. That just doesn’t happen.”
Be Prepared for An Accident If It Does Happen
“Anyone who cares for children (parents, grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers) should learn CPR! The Red Cross offers adult and pediatric CPR classes to help prepare adults to prevent and respond to emergencies. Visit www.redcross.org/takeaclass to find a class in your community,” says Nichole.
If you Can’t Find a Child, Check the Pool First
Getting them help quickly is obviously essential for a positive outcome, so check the water first.
From the Red Cross:
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: