Splish splash! Water safety tips for children

By Tracie Newman, MD May 30, 2017

Drowning is a serious fear of parents and according to the Centers for Disease Control, dronwing is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages one to four and the second leading cause of injury-related death in children ages one to 14. Most drownings are entirely preventable, occurring in bathtubs, swimming pools or buckets of water. Children can drown, even in small amounts of water, which is why water safety and prevention is so important. Water — from the bathtub and pool to lakes, rivers and oceans — can be safe if you and your family follow these safety tips.

Swimming pool safety

Provide constant supervision

  • It is recommended to supervise children of all ages when in a swimming pool. Supervising adults should know how to swim, preferably be CPR certified and avoid distractions such as cell phones.

Get wet

  • It is recommended an adult be in the water with infants and toddlers, preferably within arm’s reach.

Set poolside rules

  • Never allow children to run around a pool and avoid riding toys near the poolside.

Create a safe environment

  • Pools should have fences that surround all four sides and are at least four feet tall. The back of the house should not serve as a fourth side; however, if it does, install an alarm on the exit door to the yard and pool. The fence gate should open out from the pool, self-close and latch. The latch should be out of reach of young children to ensure safety.

Remember safety first

  • Always have rescue equipment and a functioning telephone nearby the pool.

Know what isn’t safe

  • Inflatable swimming aids, such as arm floaties, do not substitute for appropriately fitting life jackets and are not recommended.

Avoid entrapment risks

  • Suction from pool and spa drains can be dangerous. Pool owners should ensure drains are functioning correctly, regularly updated and compliant with the Pool and Spa Safety Act.

More information is available at www.poolsafely.gov.

Swim lessons

Children should learn how to swim. Children ages one to four may be at a lower risk of drowning after having formal swimming lessons. However, there is no data indicating swimming lessons prevent drowning in infants under age one. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports swimming lessons for children age one to four if the child is personally ready to learn how to swim. Before having your child start swimming lessons, consider your child’s:

  • Comfort level with water
  • Emotional maturity and development
  • Frequency of exposure to water
  • Personal health concerns
  • Physical abilities and strength

Safety in open water

  • Children should never swim alone. Even good swimmers need buddies!
  • A lifeguard or other knowledgeable adult should be watching children swim in open water at all times.
  • Ocean swimming should only be allowed when a lifeguard is on duty.
  • Just like in swimming pools, younger children require a parent to be no more than an arm’s length away, also called “touch supervision.”
  • Children should never dive into water unless there is certainty of the depth beforehand. The underwater area should also be cleared of hazards. Serous spinal cord injuries, brain damage and death can occur when diving into shallow water.
  • Children should never swim in canals or other fast moving water. Teach children about currents and rip tides. If caught in a tide, swim parallel to the shore until able to escape the current, then swim safely to shore.

Boating safety

All children should wear life vests at all times when on boats or near open water. Life jackets should fit appropriately and always be worn with all straps safely fastened. Adults are also encouraged to set a good example by wearing life jackets for their own protection. Water wings, blow-up toys and rafts are fun for playing but should never be used in place of a securely fitting life vest. To prevent boating dangers, all adult and adolescent drivers and passengers should avoid using alcohol, illicit drugs and certain prescription medicines.

Warning signs of drowning

There are multiple signs a child may be in danger of drowning including the child:

  • Appearing to climb an invisible ladder
  • Attempting to roll over
  • Breathing hard or fast
  • Closing eyes or having hair cover the eyes
  • Gasping for air
  • Having a head lower in the water or his or her mouth at water level
  • Laying vertical in water
  • Looking spaced out or unable to focus
  • Trying to swim in one direction but not making headway

A drowning emergency

Follow American Red Cross CPR guidelines:

  • Remove the child from water as quickly as possible and lay the child down flat on a sturdy, flat surface.
  • Tap the child’s shoulder and ask if he or she is OK.
  • If the child does not respond, check to see if he or she is breathing.
  • If another person is there, send the person to call 911 right away. Do not waste time looking for someone if a person is not immediately visible. If you are alone with the child, perform two minutes of CPR (five rotations of 30 chest compressions and two safety breaths) before calling 911.
  • Immediately initiate rescue breathing and CPR.
  • Tilt the child’s head back to lift the chin to a neutral position, opening the airway.
  • Deliver two rescue breaths by pinching the nose shut and placing your mouth over the child’s mouth to administer two one-second breaths. For infants, place your mouth overtop the mouth and nose and administer two one-second breaths.
  • Administer CPR immediately after rescue breaths. For older children, place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest along the sternum and place the heel of the other hand on top and lace your fingers together. For infants, use only two fingers at the center of the chest along the sternum bone.
  • Deliver 30 quick compressions at between 100 to 120 beats per minute. A good song to keep the correct cadence is “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. The compressions should be two inches deep except on infants where the depth is 1.5 inches.
  • Continue with CPR until the child is breathing on his or her own or professional medical help arrives.
  • If you have been alone with the child, continue CPR for five sets of 30 compressions and two rescue breaths. Then, call 911 before continuing to administer CPR until help arrives or the child begins breathing on his or her own.
  • Any child who even comes close to drowning should receive a complete medical exam, even if the child seems completely fine. If a child stops breathing, was submerged for a certain amount of time or loses consciousness, the child should be monitored by a medical professional for a minimum of 24 hours.

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