Make a splash safely: 10 tips to keep your kids safe in water

Children's Health

by Nathan Sabin, MD

Aug 11, 2023

Summer vacation may be ending, but the heat is hanging on. With many of us looking for ways to cool down, swimming and water activities are always a favorite. But before you jump in the pool or dip a toe in a lake, it’s important to take measures to ensure the safety of your children. By following these 10 guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can reduce the risk of drowning incidents and create a safer environment for your little ones.

1. Never leave children unattended, even for a moment

Whether it's a bathtub, pool, spa or any open standing water, constant supervision is essential. Even momentary distractions can lead to tragic accidents. Always ensure that a responsible adult is within reach to provide immediate assistance if needed.

2. Be aware of drowning risks at home

Make sure small children don’t have unsupervised access to the bathroom, swimming pool or open water. Infant bath seats can tip over or the little ones can slip out. An adult should always be present when an infant is in the bathtub.

3. Provide a Water Watcher

Whenever infants, toddlers or children who can’t swim or are just learning to swim are near water, a responsible adult with swimming skills should be within an arm's length. This designated Water Watcher must maintain constant focus and attention, and refrain from any distracting activities including using phones, socializing or tending to chores. When the Water Watcher needs to step away, even for a bit, they should be certain that someone else is taking their place.

4. Install adequate pool barriers

To keep children from accessing a pool unless there's an adult with them, install a 4-foot, four-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate around all pools, even above ground and inflatable ones.

5. Use additional layers of protection

You can install pool alarms and weight-bearing pool covers as extra safety measures. However, these should not substitute for proper fencing and adult supervision.

6. Learn CPR and keep rescue equipment handy

It is essential to be prepared for emergencies and have the necessary skills and tools to respond promptly. Parents, caregivers and pool owners should learn CPR. You should also keep a telephone and rescue equipment—preferably models approved by the US Coast Guard—poolside.

7. Teach children to swim and practice water safety

There is evidence that swim lessons may reduce the risk of drowning, including for those 1 to 4 years old. Talk to your pediatrician before starting lessons for your child. While swim lessons can reduce the risk of drowning, they do not "drown-proof" a child. Emphasize to children the importance of never swimming alone and always swimming under adult supervision.

8. Monitor progress and ensure basic swim skills

Monitor your children's progress during swim lessons and continue until they achieve basic water competence. Basic swim skills include entering the water safely, surfacing, turning around, propelling themselves for at least 25 yards, floating and exiting the water.

9. Be aware of water

Before visiting a home or business with a pool or other water access, carefully assess the premises to ensure appropriate barriers are in place. Check to make sure that sliding door locks work, pool fences are properly maintained and gates are closed and latched, , and supervision guidelines are followed.

10. Promote life jacket usage

All children, adolescents and non-swimmers should wear US Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are in or on watercraft. All adults, even skilled swimmers, should wear life jackets when boating.

As you say goodbye to summer, remember that the safety of your children in and around water is a year-round responsibility. By following these guidelines, you empower your little ones to thrive, explore and make a splash safely.

For more information on water safety, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ resources

About the Author

Dr. Sabin is a pediatric resident at Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's in Temple.

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