Last week, I saw two families with young children who had nearly drowned – children who fell into deep water and started drowning before luckily being rescued.
The children were rushed to a hospital, where doctors checked for damage to their lungs, or even worse, to their brains. Fortunately for both families, after a scary couple of days in the hospital, the children recovered fully and were sent home.
Not all families are so lucky.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 people on average every day die in America from unintentional drowning and one out of every five drownings is a child under 15 years old. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in children 1 to 4 years old.
As we approach the peak of summer, it’s a good time to review tips for water safety.
Parents should never leave young children unattended by the pool or at the beach. If children under 5 years old are near the water, a responsible adult needs to act as a water watcher at all times, preferably someone who’s trained in CPR. For young children, this adult should be within an arm’s length, ready to act right away at the first sign of danger. With older children, adults do not need to be as close, but they should still be nearby and free from distractions, such as cellphones or alcohol.
Inflatable floaties can seem like a good way to safely let young kids swim independently, but they are not an adequate substitute for life jackets or adult support. Don’t let floaties give you a false sense of security.
Private pools are required to be enclosed by a fence, which should be climb-resistant and at least 4 feet tall. A gate with a latch or lock is also required. The latch should not be within reach of young children and the gate should remain locked when the pool is not in use.
Pool toys should be out of the water when not in use. Deflate blow-up toys when not in use and make sure there are no electronic or electric-powered devices near the water. All swimmers, young and old, need to avoid diving into pools that are shallow. And, as lifeguards always say, no running on the pool deck.
Swimming in lakes, ponds and other natural bodies of water carries its own risks.
Nobody should swim alone in open water, and people should swim only in designated areas under the watch of lifeguards on duty. Open water often hides undercurrents and rip currents, which can make swimming more difficult. It’s important to teach children about rip currents and how they should swim parallel to shore to escape these scary currents.
To prevent drowning when boating, always make sure that young children wear life jackets when they are in or near natural bodies of water.
The final, and perhaps most important, part of water safety is swim lessons.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for all children over 4 years old and for those who are younger and ready to swim. Knowing when to start lessons depends on how often children are near water, their maturity, physical abilities, interest in learning to swim and comfort with water. There’s no definitive evidence that infant swim classes have any benefit, but there are many parent-child classes that can help young toddlers. Children over 4 years old should definitely be enrolled in classes until they’re able to at least master the front crawl.
By enrolling your children and grandchildren in swim lessons and by following these tips, we can all help keep swimming a fun and safe summer tradition.