Water Know-how

by | Jul. 09, 2010


According to Kids Health, nearly one thousand kids drown each year in the United States, and most of those deaths occur while children are under the supervision of a parent or caregiver. Keep your kids safe this summer by understanding the basics of water safety: supervision, education, and safe swimming environments.

Watch Your Kids John Haynes of the American Red Cross says that the best way to keep kids safe is through constant adult supervision. Assign someone to actively supervise children at all times and stay within arm's reach of children under age five. Avoid distractions like talking on the phone, reading a book, or visiting with friends, and never entrust a child to watch another child. Keep a cell phone with you and always check the water first if a child is missing.

Young children between ages 1 and 4 are most at risk for drowning. In fact, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional deaths for this age group. Never leave young children alone around any body of water, including the bathtub, fountains, inflatable pools, and even the toilet. Haynes says that older children need supervision too. He explains that older children get into trouble when they become exhausted from playing too long or overestimating their swimming ability. Watch your kids for signs of fatigue and take frequent breaks. Even children with strong swimming skills have drowned.

Teach Kids Basic Skills Sign your kids up for swimming lessons. Previous recommendations advised parents to start children in swimming lessons after age 4, but according to a recent study by the American Medical Association, swimming lessons "may help protect against drowning in the 1-to 4-year age group." The American Academy of Pediatrics has formally updated their water safety guidelines accordingly, saying children ages 1 to 4 may benefit from swim lessons.

Ann Shindler, a registered nurse and owner of Starfish Swim School in Denver, Colorado, advises parents to look for lessons taught by certified, experienced teachers who teach children basic survival skills in addition to strokes. She advocates small group sizes (four to six kids per teacher) and warm water pools. "Swimming lessons are like car seats," she says. "They may not prevent every injury, but they're a great preventative measure."

Swim Safe Teach your kids to stay away from open water like creeks, canals, and drains in your neighborhood, as well as neighbors' hot tubs and pools. Drowning often occurs when children slip or fall into water. In fact, according to the National Water Safety Program, two-thirds of drowning victims never intended to get in the water. Teach children to always ask permission before getting into water and to swim in designated areas, supervised by a lifeguard.

Swim where a lifeguard is on duty, whenever possible, but remain vigilant in watching your children. In most public pools, the average ratio of lifeguard to swimmer is 1 to 25. Even the well-trained lifeguard might not see everything.

According to Safe Kids USA, 75 percent of drowning incidents occur in home pools. Keep your pool safe by installing a four-sided isolation fence with a locked gate. For an added layer of protection, consider installing pool alarms and covers. Remove pool toys after use so children aren't tempted to go in after them. Install a rigid lockable cover on your hot tub and always keep it locked.

Many families will spend time at lakes or beaches this summer. Teach your children that swimming in open water is different than swimming in a pool. Children should always wear water shoes to protect their feet from hidden rocks, broken glass, or trash. The water along shorelines may be shallow, but can unpredictably increase in depth. Insist that inexperienced swimmers always wear a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, even if they stay close to the shore. Rough waves or undercurrents can easily knock a child over.

Before your next swimming adventure, take some time to review safety rules with your kids. If you own a pool or spend a lot of time beachside, educate yourself by taking a CPR class and a water rescue class. That way, when temperatures soar, you can pack that cooler and head for the pool with confidence.

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