With summer in full swing, kids are spending time splashing around in pools and having a blast! That said, parents are appropriately anxious any time their kids are near water. Drowning continues to be the number one cause of death in children under 4 years and is the second leading cause of death in children of all ages. Unfortunately, most drownings occur when kids are not supposed to be swimming, so the focus must be on prevention. The most important swimming safety recommendation is to keep young kids away from pools, lakes, ponds etc. unless there is a parent or responsible adult within arms reach or just beyond.
If you have a pool or if your kids frequent homes/clubs/hotels with pools or other bodies of water, you should make sure to adhere to these recommendations:
- Pools should be fenced off with a self-closing gate that can be locked or covered with a motorized pool-cover that is closed every time the pool is not in use. If a pool (or other body of water) is not fenced, access must be restricted by locked doors to keep children safely inside the house inside or outside of fences/barriers that they cannot get through (Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools)
- You should not depend on water alarms or bracelets to alert you. Although these can be part of a safe solution, they can also create a sense of false-safety, as water-caused harm can occur quickly, before you have time to respond to an alarm.
- If kids are swimming alongside adults, they can use floaties, water wings or puddle jumpers to allow some floatation, but these items are no substitute for having an adult close by, a practice termed “touch supervision” that is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
In regards to swimming lessons, the AAP does not recommend formal swim lessons before the age of 1, although parent-infant classes are a good idea for bonding and certainly can be enjoyable. Between ages 1-4 years, parents can decide whether to put their children in a formal swim program based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities and certain health conditions. The American Red Cross offers guidance on swimming safety, noting that people of ALL ages should be able to and thus these are often focused on in early swim classes:
— Step or jump into water that goes above their head
— Come back to the surface and float or tread water
— Turn around in a full circle and find a way out of the water
— Swim at least 25 yards to the exit point
— Climb out without help, even if there is no ladder
That said, even if a young child “knows how to swim,” they should be watched vigilantly. Click on the following Healthychildren.org links to learn more about swim safety here.
Please let us know if you have any questions. Splash safely… and don’t forget sunscreen!
Jackie Phillips, MD, July 3, 2023