Isn't one of the best parts of summertime the ability to just toss ourselves — and our kids — into a body of water to cool off? But according to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of death, period. Here's what you need to know to keep swim time a safe time.
We rounded up important safety tips from the leading health and safety organizations, including the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics so you can be assured that you’ve taken the steps necessary to protect your little ones — and can get on with having some fun.
1. Secure the perimeter
If you have a pool on your property, no matter how small it may be or how big your kid is, be sure to secure it so that it's as difficult as possible for your child (or someone else’s) to fall in. Put up a fence around a larger pool and install a locked gate, advises Leigh Gistinger, a certified pediatric nurse with Kids First Pediatrics; the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends pool fences be at least 4 feet tall.
Other safety tips: Install an alarm system that will alert you when someone is near the pool; pull ladders up on aboveground pools; and secure pool covers tightly when they're not in use. And during the off-season, empty pools of their water. A kid who thinks it’s funny to try to walk on a frozen pool is an accident waiting to happen.
2. Teach swim safety
While even seasoned swimmers can drown for a variety of reasons — including rip tides, leg cramps, head injuries and more — teaching your child about water safety from a young age can give them a head-start on skills that last a lifetime, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Babies can learn to swim from incredibly young ages, so take advantage and get them swim lessons early. Teach your kids important tips, like how to float, how to get out of a rip current (generally, swim diagonally through it, parallel to the shore) and even how to perform CPR on someone else should the need arise.
The AAP posits that swim lessons can reduce your child's chances of drowning by 88 percent. Empowering your child with the proper safety rules and swimming skills can make the difference between life and death.
3. Don’t leave kids unattended
This should be obvious in theory, but it so often isn’t in practice. Maybe you just want to go inside to grab that [fill in the blank]. Your kid will be OK for a minute. Then the phone rings, and you get caught up in a conversation, or you’ve got a friend over and you’re hanging out or cooking dinner, or maybe you're just going to the bathroom. It's all well and good until you suddenly can't hear your kid jabbering away like they always do — and that's terrifying. So don’t chance it. Gistinger, the CDC and the AAP recommend you remove any possibility of doubt and do not leave your child unattended. Period.
4. Have rescue equipment handy
The AAP recommends keeping tools like a long pole with a hook on the end and a life preserver handy near your pool (and check to see if these items are available when you're swimming with your child at someone else's pool or another body of water). The organization does advise pool-owning parents to invest in rescue equipment that's made of fiberglass or other materials that don't conduct electricity, because you never know when a storm will arise. Also, always use life jackets when your child is in a larger body of water; arm floaties or other flotation devices meant for use in pools won't suffice in a lake.
5. Identify lesser-known hazards
Maybe you took great care to put child-safety locks on your doors — but didn't realize your child could escape through the doggie door. Or maybe you have a soft aboveground pool and didn't realize a child could lean back against it from the outside and accidentally fall in. Be mindful of lesser-known ways in which your child might be vulnerable to pool accidents or drowning and take special care to address them.
Eric Lupton of Life Saver Pool Fence suggests assigning a “pool watcher” so it’s crystal-clear who is designated to pay attention to the kids in the pool at a given time. He also echoes the accredited agencies, including the AAP, in advising that all parents larn child CPR just in case.
Being a parent is never easy, and although summer opens up opportunities for amazing outdoor activities, with those come increased risks. So be diligent, get prepared, and take some comfort knowing that once you’ve implemented these safety tips, you can kick back and have some fun.