Young Children and Water Safety

There is nothing more refreshing in the summer heat than a splash in the pool. However, according to the National SAFE Kids Campaign and the National Safety Council, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1-4 years and 10-14 years. Most infants under the age of 1 drown in bathtubs.

There are several things that families can do to help children stay safe in the water, both in the summer and year-round. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to water safety and young children.

Supervise your child at all times

Even if your child can swim, it’s important to stay within arm’s reach and remain attentive when they are near water. Even during a summer pool party when there are many people around, it’s important to not assume your child is being supervised. The American Academy of Pediatrics “feels strongly that parents should never—even for a moment—leave children alone near open bodies of water, such as lakes or swimming pools, nor near water in homes (bathtubs, spas).”

Recognize the signs of drowning

Thanks to TV and movies, many people assume that it’s obvious when a person is drowning. However, the opposite is true. Rather than splashing around and making noise, a drowning person is more likely to slip underwater silently, in a matter of seconds. Young children can drown in less than two inches of water – this means that seemingly harmless items such as mop buckets, ornamental ponds, water-filled ditches, and toilets can pose a drowning risk for children.

Consider swimming lessons

While swimming ability does not remove the risk of drowning, it can help your child learn valuable skills and become more comfortable in the water. Look for swimming lessons that also teach water safety skills such as how to identify risks while swimming, and what to do if they fall into the water.

Use water safety devices, but don’t rely on them

Children should always wear properly-fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets when near water, but these are not a substitute for parental supervision or swimming skills. Similarly, inflatable pool toys and devices such as water wings are not drown-proof. They can become slippery, or deflate.

Keep home swimming pools safe

Your child should not be able to accidentally get into the family swimming pool without your assistance and supervision. Ensure they are covered and properly fenced. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fences should:

  • Stand at least four feet high with no foot or handrails for children to climb on.
  • Have slats fewer than four inches apart so a child can't get through, or if chain link, should have no opening larger than 1¾ inches.
  • Have self-closing and self-latching gates, which are out of your child’s reach.

Learn emergency skills

Because drowning can happen quickly, parents should learn how to swim and be able to rescue a child if necessary. It is also advisable to learn CPR skills. It’s also important to have emergency equipment on-hand at a home swimming pool, such as a first-aid kit, lifejackets, and a cell phone to quickly call 911 in an emergency.

Water hazards are a serious risk for every child, whether or not they know how to swim. With these basic water safety tips, you can help to ensure your child’s summer swimming is fun and – most importantly – safe.