June 19, 2022/Children's Health

Swim Safety: How To Keep Your Kids Safe From Drowning

Make sure swimming time is safe and fun

A child wearing a life jacket balances on a paddle-board with the help of a swimming instructor.

With the advent of warmer weather, many families flock to public pools, backyard pools and open waters as a way to beat the heat.

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While swimming can be a fun and healthy summer activity, it also presents some potentially dangerous scenarios that parents should consider. A drowning event can happen in an array of situations, so it’s important to follow proper rules and regulations when enjoying water activities.

Drowning prevention is key

Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in children between the ages of 1 and 4 in the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

But there’s positive news: We’re making progress. The childhood unintentional drowning rate fell by more than 50% between 1985 and 2017, according to AAP’s numbers. And the organization recently issued updated guidelines in an effort to prevent more drowning incidents.

Pediatricians Eva Love, MD, Purva Grover, MD, and Richard So, MD, discuss the importance of staying vigilant about water safety when taking your kids swimming.

Tips for swimming safe this summer

Whether you’re in a public pool or in open waters, experts always come back to the same critical piece of advice: Stay vigilant. According to pediatrician Dr. Love, drowning prevention often comes down to knowing where children are at all times. It may seem excessive, but this is the main way to prevent a drowning event, especially in young children.

“For children in the 1 to 4 age range, they can have an event simply because they’re not being watched,” she says. “The most important thing is that there is someone who is paying attention to and aware at all times of where that child is, because that is the number one reason for children to have a drowning event.”

Learn five water safety tips to prevent drowning.

Here are nine ways you can make sure your kids are staying safe while swimming:

Deflate small pools when not in use

If you set up an inflatable pool in your backyard, make sure it’s only available for use when you’re supervising your child. You should always keep small backyard pools empty and deflated when not in use, says Dr. Grover. This ensures that children can’t use them without your oversight.

Keep the area surrounding backyard pools clear

Dr. Grover also points out that keeping patio furniture away from the pool’s edges is also important, as it prevents children from climbing up and jumping into the pool in an unsafe way.

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Fence it in

“If you have your own pool, make sure it’s properly enclosed by a fence at least four feet high with a self-latching gate and no easily accessible foot or hand holds,” says Dr. So. You’ll also want to ensure that no pool furniture is kept alongside the fence that can be used to climb over it.

Assign a designated watcher

Whether you’re in a public pool or in your backyard, small children should be supervised at all times. While this seems like obvious advice, Dr. Grover notes that it can become chaotic during a birthday party or among a crowd of kids, so it’s important for a parent or guardian to have their eyes on your child or children at all times in case of an emergency.

Get your children swimming lessons

The AAP recommends lessons for children ages 4 and older. Start even younger if you have your own pool or you frequently visit a pool or body of water. At the same time, Dr. Love cautions that enrolling infants in swimming lessons can sometimes give parents a false sense of security — so it’s important to do both: Get your children swimming lessons and still be their guide when swimming.

“The data show that if children are over the age of 1, and the parent deems them to be developmentally appropriate, then taking a swimming class actually does reduce their risk of drowning,” she says. “But the data absolutely do not support that if children learn how to swim at less than the age of 1, that this would reduce their risk.”

Learn CPR

For any swimming session, make sure there is an adult present who knows CPR. “That’s especially important if you’re going to someone else’s house or dropping your kids off at a swim party,” Dr. So says. “It’s also a great idea to learn it yourself.”

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Use drain covers

Every year, there are multiple reports of children getting their hair or baggy swim trunks caught in pool drains. Make sure drains are properly covered to avoid injury.

Stay hydrated

According to Dr. Grover, hydration is often overlooked while engaging in aquatic activities. This is just because it’s harder to realize that we’re sweating and getting tired when in water. But she emphasizes that it’s essential to take regular breaks. “A dehydrated child will have less energy and more chances of failing or fatiguing easier than a child who’s well-nourished and well-hydrated,” says Dr. Grover.

Use sunscreen

Preventing sun damage is important, too, for any summer activity, of course, but especially for swimming. “The most important thing is to reapply sunscreen after swimming or as recommended on the bottle, since there’s really no such thing as truly waterproof or water-resistant sunscreen,” advises Dr. So. “Make sure you use a minimum of SPF 15, but there’s probably no need to go any higher than SPF 35.”

In the pool and beyond

It’s also important to know that dangers around water can arise in a variety of places. Dr. Love points out that when it comes to very young children, drowning doesn’t necessarily happen in a large pool. A drowning incident could involve household items such as buckets, bathtubs and even small inflatable backyard pools, as it only takes 2 inches of water for a child to drown.

When swimming in open waters such as a lake or the ocean, there are some additional safety measures to take to prevent drowning as well. Dr. Grover shares some advice on how to make sure your kids are extra safe when swimming at the beach:

  • Check the weather. One thing to remember when swimming at the beach is to check your local weather forecast, as well as any warnings from lifeguards. Be sure to be aware of the tides and wind speed at your local beach, too, so you know if it’s safe to swim or not. “You need to be able to follow those instructions because that can change on a dime,” says Dr. Grover.
  • Avoid using flotation devices. While using floaties, water wings and other inflatable toys is usually alright in a pool, using them in open water is a different story. As open water isn’t a confined and controlled area, there can be a high risk for accidents.
  • Stay together. Especially with smaller children, Dr. Grover recommends going swimming in groups and not letting them go unsupervised. Because of the unpredictability of the waves, wind and rocks, everyone should be extra vigilant.

Overall, drowning events are preventable as long as you follow necessary precautions. Taking precautions will allow you to enjoy an outing at the pool, lake or your own backyard as long as you stay vigilant and come prepared.

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