Every year, hundreds of young children slip quietly in the pool when their parents aren’t watching—- and drown. Protect your family with these essential safety steps.
At only three-and-a-half, Weston Letter already knew how to swim, and he could almost get up on water skis. “We’re water people-we live in an area where there are lakes and pools everywhere,” says his mother, druann. But one afternoon, when she was in the house and his father was in the garage that overlooks the backyard, Weston wandered out to their pool and fell in. He was out of sight for only a few minutes, but by the time his parents found him, it was too late. “My husband is a firefighter and saves lives. I’m a first-grade teacher and a safety freak-probably one of the most overprotective mom you’ll ever meet,” says Letter. “But together, we couldn’t save our little boy.”
As parents, we try to so everything humanly possible to protect our kids. Yet, as the Letter learned that day, you can never be too careful around the water. Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional deaths for children in the US, just behind motor-vehicle crashes. But here’s some reassuring news: In a world where dangers often seems to lurk everywhere, tragedies in the water are actually something every one of us can avoid.
“Most children drown because their parents turn their head for just a second or have no idea that their child is even near the pool,” says Letter. In nine out of 10 drownings, parents or caregivers say they’d been supervising the child at the time, according to research by Safe Kids Worldwide.
But kids-especially toddlers, who are at higher risk-are impulsive and fast. They’ll dart out of a screen door, crawl through the doggy door, or wander into the pool area to get a toy.
“Almost all children who’ve drowned had been missing for less than five minutes,” adds Tiffaney Isaacson, coordinator of Water Watchers, a water-safety program run by Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “However, four minutes under water can cause permanent neurological damage. If you have a pool and you don’t know where your child is, always look in the pool first.”
When a child drowns, it’s nothing like what you might see on TV or in the movies. “Toddlers don’t yell or splash, and they sink fast,” warns Steven Kernie, M.D., a pediatric critical-care physician at Children Medical Center Dallas. Ironically, many drownings occur at parties with plenty of adults around. “Everybody assumes that someone else is watching the water,” says Dr.Kernie. “That’s why it’s critical to designate one adult to keep an eye on the kids and the pool all the time.”
Watching your child at the pool doesn’t mean glancing up periodically while you’re chatting on your cell phone or grilling buyers on the deck. “You have to engage in active supervision. That means being in the water with children who are just learning to swim, and by the side of the pool-no farther than an arm’s length away-for other children, and keeping your eyes on them every second,” says Alan Korn, director of public policy for SafeKids. “You can’t assume that just because your child is a good swimmer, he won’t drown. At no age is a child drown-proof.”
In the past, pediatricians have worried that enrolling children younger than age four in swimming lessons might actually make the toddlers less cautions around water and give parents a false sense of security. However, a recent study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human development found that kids between the ages of one and four who took formal lessons had a significantly lower risk of drowning than kids who hadn’t taken lessons-and as a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics is in the process of revising its recommendations about water classes for young children. However, kids who’ve taken lessons still need constant supervision in and around the water.
Learning to swim is one thing, but experts say we should also be teaching about water safety in schools. “Why teach drowning prevention to kids when it’s a parents’ responsibility?” Letter asks rhetorically. “Sad but true, many school-age children are asked to supervise siblings in the water when they’re not prepared to handle an emergency. Kids think the best way to save someone is to jump in and pull them out, but that puts them at risk for drowning themselves.” Instead, teach your child to call out for help first, and then lie down at the side of the pool and extend a life ring, a pole, or a towel to a struggling swimmer.
Unfortunately, many pool owners don’t always keep safety equipment on deck or take precautions that can help prevent serious accidents (see “Hazards at Home”). Whether you own a pool or are swimming at a friend’s house, your child’s safety is your responsibility. “Parents need to build layers of protection. Fences, covers, and alarms all help,” says Marcia Ker, a product-safety investigator at the Consume Product Safety Commissions. “But the first line of defense is you.”
6 Rules for oceans, rivers, and lakes
- Don’t take your eyes off children when they’re in the water-ever.
- Swim only when a lifeguard is on duty and in designated areas.
- When boating, canoeing, waterskiing, or riding a Jet Ski, make sure everyone wears a safety-approved personal flotation device.
- Never let your child dive if you don’t know how deep the water is or if there could be hidden dangers below.
- Understand the meanings and obey the warnings of the colored flags placed near the shore by lifeguards.
- Stop swimming at the first sign of bad weather: storm clouds; thunder and lightning; rough, foamy water.
Hazards at Home
Any of these serious problems increases the risk that a child could drown in a pool.
- Tables And Chairs Outside The Pool Area : If they’re left in the backyard, kids could push them up against the fence and climb into the pool area.
- Water Wings, Floaties, Inner Tubes, Noodles : These are pool toys. If someone needs added support in the pool, use only safety-approved flotation devices. Check the label or box.
Public Pool Safety
These precautions are also important for home pools and hot tubs. When you’re at a public pool, follow these safety essentials:
- Swim Only When A Lifeguard Is On Duty but don’t rely on him to supervise your child.
- Always Have One Hand On Your Baby even if he’s in an inflatable ring, and make sure that young kids are within arm’s reach. No child should ever swim alone.
- Don’t Allow Kids To Dive Into Less Than Eight Feet Of Water never permit diving in an above-ground pool