Swim and Water Safety for Children

Every late spring and early summer it begins. The start of swim lessons in our household. My children are 3 and 6, we don’t have a pool at home, nor do we visit one on a regular basis. And yet, I feel swimming is an essential skill all children should learn.

Safety being the number one reason, yes. Also? Swimming during summer can be a lot of fun! My kids still have a very cautious attitude toward the water, and honestly, I’m grateful for that. Children seem magnets to water, it’s so enticing to them. This is why we should never let our guards down as parents when we are near pools, spas, rivers, oceans, etc. with our children.

There is just too much at stake. And quite frankly, it only takes minutes of being distracted for a toddler to get in trouble. Every second really does count when it comes to water safety and drowning prevention. To further drive my point home, you should know that fatal drowning remains the 2nd leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 1-4 (CDC).

So, as you head to the pool this summer, please keep these safety tips in mind. This is one area where I cannot emphasize enough that vigilance is key.

Should my child take formal swim lessons?

  • A resounding Yes!
  • Children age 4 and older, most certainly yes.
  • All children should really acquire this skill by age 8.
  • Furthermore, the AAP and child safety experts now agree that children ages 1-4 can also benefit from formal swimming lessons. In fact, a study has revealed that there exists an 88% risk reduction of drowning in children ages 1-4 who participate in such lessons.
  • When considering to enroll your 1-4 year old in swimming lessons, make this decision based on his developmental, physical, and emotional readiness.
  • It has not been shown that babies under one year, benefit from any formal swim lessons.
  • Important to keep in mind: formal swim lessons does not mean your child is “drown proof”. These lessons are really part of the overall water safety and drowning prevention package.
  • Even older, well skilled swimmers are at risk for drowning if the situation becomes unsafe.

Make sure the pool is safe:

  • All home pools should have a safety approved fence around all four sides. The fence should be at least 4 feet high, be self-latching, and have a lock unreachable to little hands.
  • All pool and spa drains should have covers to avoid hair entanglement. Also, the suction on these drains can be quite powerful, enough to trap a child’s arm or foot if not properly covered.
  • Above ground, inflatable pools should also be fenced in.
  • Do not leave standing water in kiddie pools. Keep in mind that it only takes a couple inches of water for a toddler to lose balance, fall, and yes, drown in even that tiny amount of water.
  • Post signs near pool about rules, depth of pool, and CPR instructions.
  • Pool owners and parents should know CPR and always have a phone nearby.

Safety tips for parents and children around pools:

  • Make sure your children know and abide by the no running rule around pools.
  • Never leave a child unattended around a pool, not even a “kiddie” pool.
  • Infants and toddlers should always be within arm’s reach…really! We call this “touch supervision”. I cannot emphasize this enough. Toddlers lose their balance fairly easily in water and are top heavy, leaving them prone to falling face first in water…no matter how shallow. **(see my case in point below)**
  • Arm floaties, noodles, and other floatie toys are not suitable substitutes for “Coast Guard approved” life vests.
  • Never become complacent around water and your children. Remain vigilant at all times. It’s far too easy to become distracted at “pool parties”. Each child should have an “assigned” adult watching them at all times. That way, partners don’t assume that the other one is keeping a watchful eye.
  • Keep in mind that drowning is often silent, don’t assume that you will hear your child if she is in trouble.
  • Older, well skilled swimmers should also always be supervised. Do not allow horseplay that could injure or prevent a child from getting air.

**Case in point: last summer on our vacation, the hubs and I took the kids, then ages 2 and 5, to the hotel’s wading pool for kids. My 2 year old daughter loved splashing around in there, the water was well below her knees. I sat right beside her within touching distance…until…I scooted to the side to grab a toy. Of course, that would be the moment she lost her balance and went face first into the water. She was unable to right herself. While I was there within seconds, it seemed like forever before I was able to reach her. Time moved in slow motion as I scampered to reach my struggling child. I will never forget that moment. So, please….stay in touch!

Enjoy this summer with your children. Have fun swimming and playing in the water, just be sure to keep safety at the forefront, and honestly, do not let your guard down when it comes to water and your child.

Please feel free to add your own safety tips or cautionary tales here. The more we know, the better.

**Submit your parenting or health related question to mommamd4two(at)aol(dot)com. I feature a question or topic every week. If you don’t have a question, but have a topic you’d like to see me cover, please e-mail me or leave a comment. **

    18 Responses to Swim and Water Safety for Children
    1. KDC Events
      June 17, 2011 | 7:55 am

      I put my 2yr old in lessons and he LOVES them! The basic thing he learned is to roll on his back and float.

    2. MJ
      June 17, 2011 | 8:08 am

      Great post and reminder for Summer time! As you recall I was a child of drowning experience and this has always been a #1 priority because of the trauma it left of what I can recall. Parents also remember if you have a daycare/sitter where there is a pool you should go over with them there safety procedures and what precautions they are taking in your absence. When I had my youngest at the time in daycare living in Cali she had a swim instructor come to gave all the kids swim lessons since she owned a pool. Also any precautions indoors to keep the wee ones from getting out. We have double locks on our back door with an alarm that goes off every time the door opens. You can never be to safe when it comes to the safety of your kids. I have nightmares about this owning a pool and prevention and thinking ahead is key. Thanks for the awesome reminder for parents to keep their eyes wide open!

    3. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom)
      June 17, 2011 | 8:21 am

      Recall? Umm, sis I think that horrifying day is seared into all of our hearts and minds forever. Just ever so thankful everything turned out all right. XO

      Seriously…I have nightmares about it. I often see my own kids in the same situation. Recurring nightmare.

      Anyway, thanks for the extra tips. I love the alarms on door leading to the pool.

    4. Leah
      June 17, 2011 | 9:56 am

      This is so informative – thank you! We don't have a pool either. But my parents do and they are far from cautious about children and people around the pool area. I've signed up my 3-year-old daughter for swim lessons so she can at least get the basic information. I agree that it's something every child should have, regardless of whether there is a pool in the yard. Great tips!

    5. Janie {Hoo}
      June 17, 2011 | 10:36 am

      Great and informative post as usual Dr. Mom.

      We have our share of drowning and near drowning incidents here in Singapore due to large # of reservoirs and presence of pools in most condos and estates. I have attended to a couple of victims in the past and thinking about them now still make me shudder in fear.

      FYI, we have a National Water Safety initiative called Swimsafer (http://www.swimsingapore.com/swimsafer). It's aim is to equip kids with swimming proficiency and water survival skills via a progressive six-stage program.

    6. Expat Doctor Mom
      June 17, 2011 | 6:35 pm

      Great post! I too witnessed our daughter at the age of 2 1/4 years jump into a pool without her floaties on that was about chest deep on her (I was right behind her) not able to right herself. A timely reminder that every second counts!

      We live in the desert and are at the pool a lot. Our son would not wear floaties and taught himself to swim at 3 3/4 years (a lot later than several of the boys his age who swam at the pool the same amount!) and our daughter I just enrolled at the age of 3. She is great with her floaties so we shall see.

      Thanks again!

    7. Cheryl D.
      June 17, 2011 | 11:48 pm

      Great post! My daughter is getting her private lessons beginning on Monday to brush up before camp begins!

    8. Victoria
      June 18, 2011 | 12:02 am

      Wonderful post. I hope every parent will read this post. Anything we can do as parents to make our children safe we should. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I will be sharing it with my friends for sure. :)

    9. Lauralee Moss
      June 18, 2011 | 8:13 am

      Thanks so much for the ideas. My daughter went face first into the bathtub, and could not get back up. It was awful. Water is fun, but can be so scary as well.

    10. Lauralee Moss
      June 18, 2011 | 8:14 am

      I should finish that. :) I was right there, and she was fine. But that was an awful five seconds!

    11. Lisa - the Granola Catholic
      June 18, 2011 | 10:21 am

      Swim lessons are essential and mandatory at my house. I grew up around water and we all attended swim lessons until about age 12. My kids attend swim lessons until they join swim team. Swimming is an important LIFE skill and as you said something enjoyable too. Especially when the temps are 100 degrees.

    12. Paula @ Simply Sandwich
      June 18, 2011 | 8:28 pm

      We did the formal lessons for our two kidlets and the only thing I would add is to be prepared to do them for several summmers. When they are little they forget between seasons and it is good to remind them until they are really water safe.

    13. Andie
      June 19, 2011 | 11:04 am

      One of my twins jumped head first into a pool at eighteen months. Even though his foot was in my hand within seconds I still remember that moment and always will.

    14. Liz
      June 20, 2011 | 9:52 am

      One of the first things we did when we moved into this house was put up a fence around our pool.

      Kate has had formal lessons and I'm super impressed with all she can do for her age. Maddie is still at the point where she doesn't want to put her face in, though is doing well with kicking and moving her arms.

    15. Laura@OutnumberedMom
      June 20, 2011 | 9:57 am

      I still remember a moment like that from my childhood, and my dad was there. But it's seared in my memory oh-so-many years later. You do have to keep them in the water, though, which is hard without a pool. Takes effort. But it's so important, yes.

    16. Betsy at Zen-Mama
      June 20, 2011 | 12:21 pm

      Great reminders. We had a moment when our 2 year old fell in a hot tub during the winter with all his clothes on. Luckily we were right there, too. We were just turned the other way, talking to friends. We were lucky!!

    17. Katie Hurley, LCSW
      June 20, 2011 | 2:06 pm

      Great post and so very necessary. Tweeting this!

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