source credit: Peg Rosen, Pamela Kramer, Ari Brown MD, Kate Lawler, Parents Magazine, Safe Kids Worldwide
As temperatures rise this summer, many families take to the water. But did you know that drowning remains one of the leading causes of preventable deaths for children in the U.S., with nearly 800 deaths each year? Follow these water safety tips and help make the water a safe place for kids to play.
Talk with your kids about all aspects of water safety.
Nearly 70 percent of childhood drownings happen when kids aren’t swimming; they may wander over to a neighbor’s yard, slip through an unlocked back door during playtime, or tumble into a kiddie pool filled with rain water.
Tell kids: “You don’t go in or near the water without a grown-up, just like you don’t cross the street without a grown-up. It is dangerous.”
You should regularly reinforce this message the way you do all other household rules.
Teach your child water rules.
For easy memorizing, stick to these five:
No diving in the shallow end
No pushing people in
No pulling other kids under the water
No swimming without adult supervision—ever
Insist on water watchers
When everybody’s watching, nobody’s watching. That’s why safety organizations urge parents and caregivers to take turns being on official “water-watching duty” in group-swim situations. A Water Watcher is a responisble adult who agrees to watch the kids in the water without distractions and wear a Water Watcher tag.
“Wearing it reminds me and everyone else that I’m on the job and they shouldn’t even be talking to me.”
Know what a child in distress looks like
Kids drown silently and quickly, often when they are vertical in the water with their head tipped back. Unlike what you see in movies, a child rarely splashes, flails his arms, or yells for help.
Being a good water watcher is like being a good lifeguard: “You intervene when a kid may be even slightly in trouble so he doesn’t get to the point of drowning,” says Linda Quan, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, in Seattle.
Put away your phone.
Lifeguards see it all the time. “Parents and caregivers show up at the pool, tell the kids to stay in the shallow end, and then go right on their phones,” says Josh Rowland, aquatics product manager for the American Red Cross. At the very least, unwatched kids end up being babysat by lifeguards or other adults. But children can silently slip beneath the surface and drown in seconds—the time it takes to post on Instagram.
Make a pact with yourself: When you’re at the pool or the beach or the lake, silence your phone and stow it out of reach in your bag so you’re not tempted to use it.
“If you hear a text message come in and turn to your phone for five seconds, that’s long enough for a child to be submerged,” says Anne Beasley, M.D., a pediatric hospitalist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
You don’t need to leave your phone at home—in fact, you should keep it fully charged and within reach so you can call for help in case of an emergency.
Consider swim lessons to be a health-care priority.
Even if you don’t live close to water, your child will end up near it at some point, whether on vacation or at someone else’s home. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that all children and parents learn to swim.
Basic water competency swim skills include ability to enter the water, surface, turn around, propel oneself for at least 25 yards and then exit the water. Look for a program that has certified instructors and groups kids according to their abilities. It’s best for your child to take lessons every year to refresh her skills and learn new ones, but don’t let her comfort in the water make you lax about safety.
Make older kids buddy up.
As an extra layer of protection, experts recommend that kids follow the buddy system. Pair your child with a friend or a sibling, and explain that each kid is responsible for knowing where her buddy is at all times. But don’t forget that a pal doesn’t replace adult supervision; the system serves as a supplement.
Have your emergency plan in place.
Knowing even basic CPR and acting immediately—instead of waiting for emergency responders—can make the difference between life and death in drowning cases or anytime a person’s heart stops. Round up a group of parents and sign up for CPR classes together, or order a CPR party kit (gotothecprparty.org) to learn these skills at home. Buy an all-weather sign with CPR instructions to hang on the inside of your pool gate, and be sure to print your home’s address on it in permanent marker in case anyone needs to call an ambulance.
Even if a child doesn’t need CPR after being submerged, having water in her lungs can still lead to serious trouble. “Watch for coughing, lethargy, and rapid breathing, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911,” says Dr. Smith.
Never rely on water wings, floaties, inner tubes or noodles.
These are pool toys. If someone needs added support in the pool, use only flotation devices labeled “Coast Guard-approved.