Swimming Safety

11 pointers for protecting children in and around the water.

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury/death for children and adolescents, and children ages 1-3 are especially vulnerable. Keep reading to make summer playtime a splash for all.

Water safety starts with supervision.

Supervision is crucial in keeping our children safe. Children cannot be left in the kiddie pool the same way they might be placed in front of the TV. Children playing near water require constant adult supervision. An 8-year-old sibling is not mature enough to watch tykes in and around the water. Parents should exercise touch-reach supervision, which means they are always within an arm’s length of a child when close to the water. Realize also that floaties and water wings are not an alternative to supervision; they do not prevent a child from drowning. 

Practice water safety inside and out.

Children can drown in very little water, very quickly. While it may be more apparent to take safety precautions when at the pool or the beach, parents should practice safety any place where water exists, including near the bathtub, toilet, fish ponds, buckets of water, coolers, fountains, hot tubs and even big puddles. 

Maintain a safe parent-to-child ratio.

Young children are safest in the water when there is a one-to-one parent-to-child interaction. The supervising parent or caregiver must give one’s undivided attention— without being on the phone, reading a book or watching another child. Never leave a child unattended in or near the water to answer the telephone or doorbell. Rather, pay close attention even if the child is in a kiddie pool, at the water’s edge or in the shallow end of a pool.

Older children need supervision, too. 

Water safety is important, but parents might take it for granted with their older children. Pay attention to the older kids in the clan. They love to have mom and dad watch them do cool things in the water. Encourage physical activity and give lots of positive feedback— while looking on. Enjoy watching your children have a great time!

Designate pool guards.

Invite other parents to help supervise at pool parties with several young children. If children will be swimming at a big family party, designate pool guards who are fine without drinking or socializing. Perhaps two or three such parents can rotate. Teach kids ages 8-12 what to do in case of an emergency. Role play with them what to do, when to do it and how to dial 9-1-1 in case of a serious crisis. Parents with children near the water should also know CPR, especially when no trained lifeguard is on duty.

Remove all water temptation.

Keep children away from the water unless supervised. That means emptying the kiddie pool and getting covers with locks for hot tubs and spas. Families with pools should follow their state or county guidelines to keep both their children and the community’s children safe. Be sure to also empty the cleaning bucket after mopping, shut the bathroom door and use a mesh cover over a fish pond.

Learn to swim together.

Children often learn by example, making it wise for parents and children to take swim lessons together. Check with your pediatrician to see if your child is old enough to learn how to swim. Children’s muscles must be strong enough for them to hold their heads up out of water, which usually occurs by age 6 months. This way, kids tend not to swallow water. Under the age of 4, children are not developmentally able to independently swim properly and safely. There are many different programs that introduce smaller children to water play by acclimating them to the water. Such programs teach basic water skills, including how to blow bubbles, kick, move one’s arms and doggie paddle underwater. The best programs involve a caregiver working alongside a child in the water. As children get older, they can take more advanced swim lessons. Recognize, however, that swimming lessons do not protect kids from drowning— only constant supervision can. Ensure instructors are certified and have proper experience.

Establish rules and be consistent.

Create basic rules for all pools, including no running, no diving and no swimming alone. Buddy checks can play a major part in teaching children early on that nobody swims alone. Make this fun and shout “Buddy check time” during the course of swimming sessions. Do not leave toys near the pool, especially riding toys such as trucks, bikes and wagons. And do not leave toys floating in the pool. Most importantly, be consistent with enforcing the rules you create.

Practice beach and lake safety.

Upon first arriving at the beach or a lake, check to see if there is a lifeguard on duty.  If not, then the parent is the sole lifeguard. Go in the water with children who cannot swim on their own. If there is a lifeguard present, swim within the flags near the lifeguard on duty. Sit with children who are playing at the water’s edge. Teach older kids who can swim about tides and undertow at the beach. Look out for weeds and other growing things at the lake, as not all lakes have sandy bottoms. Also beware of debris in the water and things that sting or bite.

Do the “lotion motion.”

When a child plays outdoors between the hours of 11am and 3pm, lather on sunscreen first with a minimum SPF of 15 and both UVA and UVB protection. Waterproof sunscreen is best if the child may go in the water. Either way, reapply sunscreen on noses, cheeks and toes, and bring hats and sunglasses for extra protection. Implement an enjoyable sun-care routine, broadcasting when it’s time for the lotion motion. Keep a shirt on your child for another layer of protection, and consider using protective wet suits and clothing with SPF. Mom and dad should set a good example by practicing proper sun care, too.

Water playtime offers quality time.

While water safety is a serious subject, water playtime offers a great opportunity to engage and interact with your child. Consider bringing soft toys into the tub or swimming pool that help children adjust to the water and safely partake in gentle splashing.