By: Kevin Borrup, Executive Director, Injury Prevention
We all want our children to have a fun, memorable and active summer. Water play is a major part of making summer memories and many kids are eager to splash around, swim or attend pool or beach parties.
However, we need to be mindful that water can be dangerous and children require constant supervision when in or around water. Below are some tried-and-true water safety rules:
1. Always, always be a “water watcher,” no matter where you are.
First, here are some jarring facts:
- Most drownings in kids who are four years old or younger happen in home swimming pools.
- About 27% of these drownings happen at someone else’s home. (SafeKids.org is a great resource for more information like this.)
- Children can drown in as little as two inches of water.
Second, trust your instincts as a parent and be on guard, especially if you’re a guest at someone’s home and are unsure about the safety mechanisms they’ve put into place. Experts say to:
- Keep kids within an arm’s reach because of how fast an incident can happen. In other words, pay constant attention.
- Put the phone down, limit alcohol consumption and avoid other distracting activities.
- Take turns with other adults to share the responsibility.
- Young children should wear a life jacket as an additional layer of protection.
Finally—of course you can still enjoy yourself and put safety top of mind. Come up with a buddy system with your significant other or another trusted adult nearby—take turns being vigilant. Accountability and teamwork are key!
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2. Know how to prepare for and respond to an emergency while also keeping yourself safe.
Even with precautionary measures already in place—like a pool fence, lifeguards and other watchful adults—it’s important to do the following for everyone’s safety. These require some planning in advance, but are worth it in the long run.
- Consider swim lessons as an extra layer of protection against drowning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends many children start as young as one year old. If your child is four or older, swim lessons are a “must” for the whole family. Learn more about the AAP’s recommendations on swimming lessons.
- Purchase a life jacket.
Your child should always be in a properly fitted life jacket approved by the US Coast Guard, when around or near water. (More about that here.)
- Get trained (and certified!) in CPR.
All parents, caregivers and pool owners should know how to use CPR in a life-threatening situation. Ask your local fire department or police station how to sign up for courses.
3. Thinking of getting a pool? Set your own home up for water safety success.
Above-ground pool? In-ground? Whatever your preference, here’s what you should do to “child-proof” your pool area.
- Fit your fence properly around your above-ground pool—it should be four feet high with four sides and without any footholds, handholds or nearby objects children can use to climb.
- Lock any gates and hide ladders when you’re not using the pool. The gate should: 1) be self-closing, 2) be self-latching, 3) only open out, and away from the pool area, 4) be at least 54 inches from the ground, away from reach.
- Space your slats so small children and pets can’t squeeze through them—no more than four inches of space is the AAP standard.
4. Be a water safety advocate—with resources to help you out.
Many of us don’t want to consider that one “what if?” scenario, but your child’s life depends upon being prepared and staying safe. There are boundless resources to help guide you as a water safety advocate for all children. Check out:
- These swimming safety tips from Safe Kids Worldwide
- These guidelines about open water and boating safety, life jackets and water rescue skills
- These different types of outdoor bodies of water and how to stay safe around them
5. Let the whole family in on it with kid-friendly resources, too!
Kids of all ages and stages are eager to learn, so have some fun teaching them about water safety. Check out:
- “Do your part, be water smart” from Longfellow the Whale and the American Red Cross—videos, activities and guides for all ages.
- The book, Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim, or download the free app
- This video, “Gary on the Street: Everyone Can Swim,” features Black children who are competitive swimmers.
6. If your child is learning to swim and has special needs, set expectations ahead of time.
All of the same safety rules still apply, and in addition:
- Introduce water and the rules around water early on.
- For some children, water is soothing and swimming can have other physical benefits, too.
- Practice active supervision at all times and ensure that life jackets are worn.