It's not quite summer yet, but families are already enjoying time spent in pools and lakes. Every year when water activties increase we hear the sad news of someone's loved one drowning. There are safegueards people can take to make swimming and playing in the water safer and it's always appropriate to review them once again as the season begins.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has created a list of precautions to help keep children safe when they are playing near or in water.
Do swimming lessons for children 4 and under help prevent drowning?
Some parents believe that starting their toddler (or infant) with swimming lessons will give them an advantage if they somehow find themselves in water over their head. The AAP used to not recommend swimming lessons for children one to three years of age because there was little evidence that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swim skills. There was also concern that parents or guardians would become less vigilant about supervising a child who had learned some swimming skills.
However, small studies have shown that children who develop swimming skills at this age are less likely to drown. The studies don't define what type of lessons work best, so the AAP is not recommending mandatory swim lessons for all children ages 1 to 4 at this time. Instead, the new guidance recommends that parents should decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child's frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health conditions related to pool water infections and pool chemicals.
The AAP does not recommend formal swimming lessons for children under the age of one.
If you do enroll your child in swimming lessons, make sure that pool safety guidelines set by the YMCA are used.
The AAP recommends these 12 safety rules for parents, guardians and children when they are around water:
- Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as bathtubs, fishponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, creeks, watering cans—even the bucket you use when you wash the car. Empty containers of water when you're done using them. Children are drawn to places and things like these and need constant supervision to be sure they don't fall in.
- An adult, preferably one who knows CPR, should always be near and watch children who are swimming, even in a shallow toddler's pool. The adult should be within arm's length, providing "touch supervision" whenever infants, toddlers, or young children are in or around water. Empty and put away inflatable pools after each play session.
- Enforce safety rules: No running near the pool and no pushing others underwater.
- Don't allow your child to use inflatable toys or mattresses in place of a life jacket. These toys may deflate suddenly, or your child may slip off them into water that is too deep for him or her.
- Be sure the deep and shallow ends of any pool your child swims in are clearly marked. Never allow a child to dive into the shallow end.
- Backyard swimming pools, (including large, inflatable above-ground pools), should be completely surrounded with at least a 4-foot (1.2 meters) high fence that completely separates the pool from the house. The fence should have a self-closing and self-latching gate that opens away from the pool, with the latch at least 54 inches high. Check the gate frequently to be sure it is in good working order. Keep the gate closed and locked at all times. Be sure your child cannot manipulate the lock or climb the fence. No opening under the fence or between uprights should be more than 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Keep toys out of the pool area when not in use so that children are not tempted to try to get through the fence.
- If your pool has a cover, remove it completely before swimming. Also, never allow your child to walk on the pool cover; water may have accumulated on it, making it as dangerous as the pool itself. Your child also could fall through and become trapped underneath. Do not use a pool cover in place of a four-sided fence because it is not likely to be used appropriately and consistently.
- Keep a safety ring with a rope beside the pool at all times. If possible, have a phone in the pool area with emergency numbers clearly marked.
- Spas and hot tubs are dangerous for young children, who can easily drown or become overheated in them. Don't allow young children to use these facilities.
- Your child should always wear a life jacket when he swims or rides in a boat. A life jacket fits properly if you can't lift it off over your child's head after he's been fastened into it. For the child under age five, it also should have a flotation collar to keep the head upright and the face out of the water.
- Adults should not drink alcohol when they are swimming or boating. It presents a danger for them as well as for any children they might be supervising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of boating fatalities are alcohol related.
- Be sure to eliminate distractions while children are in the water. Talking on the phone, working on the computer, and other tasks need to wait until children are out of the water.
Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. About one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.
These statistics are not meant to scare you into not allowing your child to enjoy the benefits and fun of swimming. Swimming is great exercise and really enjoyable, particularly on a hot summer day. It's also a great family activity. These stats are to remind you that extra precautions and serious attention needs to be given when children are around water, so that fun doesn't turn into tragedy.