Children playing in a pool. When summer starts it's a good time to review water safety so that you can protect your kids\.

When it starts heating up outside our thoughts turn to lazy days at a pool where we can cool off and enjoy some much-needed relief from the summer scorch. Before you break out the swimsuits and sunscreen, its always a good idea to refresh yourself on how to keep your kids safe around water.

Scary Statistics

According to the children’s safety network, an average of 3,572 people drown in the United States every year, 945 of them are children. At the pediatric hospital where I worked, I saw up close the horrific tragedies that occur around water. How can we protect our children? It starts by educating yourself. As you learn more about water safety with kids, you’ll be able to implement precautions to keep them safe.

My near miss story

During the first summer of covid, I tried the make our backyard extra fun for the kids. One hot summer day I filled bins with water and let the children play in them to cool off. (There was apparently a run on the play pools that year.) I became momentary distracted when my 18 month toddler dove head first into one of the bins. Luckily, his older sibling was right next to him and pulled him out quickly. It was a scary reminder for me because of how fast it happened and how just a bin full of water can become deadly for a young child. That afternoon I recommited myself to being extra vigilent around any source of water.

Understanding The Problem: Why are kids more likely to die from water-related accidents?

  1. Lack of swimming skills: Children, especially young ones, may not have developed adequate swimming skills which can make them more vulnerable to accidents and drowning incidents.
  2. Inadequate supervision: Gaps in supervision can occur due to distractions, lack of awareness, or simply underestimating the potential risks. Even a momentary lapse in supervision can have tragic consequences.
  3. Attraction to water: Water can be highly appealing to children, drawing them into play. Children may be naturally curious and inclined to explore water bodies, which can increase the likelihood of accidents if proper precautions are not in place.
  4. Accessibility to water sources: Children can gain access to water sources without appropriate supervision or safety measures in place. This can include swimming pools, bathtubs, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, ponds, or even buckets filled with water. It is crucial to ensure that these areas are secure and inaccessible to young children when not in use.
  5. Lack of knowledge about water safety: Children may not have been adequately educated about water safety practices and precautions.
  6. Overestimation of swimming abilities: Older kids and teenagers may overestimate their swimming abilities. This can lead to risky behaviors like venturing into deep water or attempting activities beyond their skill level.

What can you do to improve water safety for kids

A family having fun at the pool.

When near a pool or swimming

  • Always have adult supervision: Children should never be left unsupervised near water, even for a few seconds. Adults should always be within reach and actively watching children while they’re in the water.
  • Teach kids to swim and respect the water: Enroll your child in swimming lessons at a young age, and make sure they learn the basics of floating, treading water, and breathing techniques. Teach them to respect the water and never go near it without an adult present.
  • Wear appropriate safety gear: Life jackets are essential for children who are not yet strong swimmers, especially when boating or playing in deep water.
  • Don’t run around the pool: Slippery surfaces around the pool can easily cause accidents, so make sure children walk around the pool and never run or play rough games in or around it.
  • Don’t dive into shallow water: Children should always enter the water feet-first and never dive into shallow or unknown water. Make sure they are aware of water depth and obstacles before entering.
  • Stay away from pool drains and suction outlets: Children should never play near pool drains or suction outlets, as these can create strong underwater currents that can be very dangerous.
  • Be aware of the weather and water conditions: Before entering any body of water, make sure to check the weather and water conditions, such as temperature, wind, and current strength. Avoid swimming during thunderstorms or in rough waters.
Mom and daughter at the beach.

At the Beach

  • Always swim near a lifeguard: Choose a beach with lifeguards on duty and always swim near their station. Teach your child to follow their instructions and stay within the designated swimming area.
  • Pay attention to beach warning flags: Different beach flags are used to indicate different conditions and hazards, such as strong currents, jellyfish, or sharks. Make sure your child knows what each flag means and to avoid areas with red flags.
  • Watch out for rip currents: Rip currents can occur at any beach and can be very dangerous. Teach your child to swim parallel to the shore if caught in a rip current and never swim against it.
  • Be aware of the local wildlife and vegetation: Beaches can be home to a variety of wildlife and plants, some of which can be dangerous. Teach your child to avoid touching jellyfish, stingrays, or any unfamiliar creatures or plants.
Children on a boat.

When out on a boat

  • Always wear a life jacket: Make sure your child wears a properly fitting life jacket at all times when on a boat or near water. Inflatable toys or rafts should never be used as life-saving devices.
  • Ensure that the boat is in good condition: Before heading out on a boat, make sure it is in good condition, with no leaks, broken parts, or missing safety equipment.
  • Don’t overload the boat: Follow the recommended weight limits and passenger capacity for your boat to avoid capsizing or swamping.
  • Follow boating rules and regulations: Teach your child about boating safety regulations and laws, never drink alcohol and drive a boat, or when you are watching kids on a boat.
  • Stay up to date on weather conditions: Check the weather forecast and water conditions before heading out on a boat, and avoid boating during storms, high winds, or strong currents.
Mother bathing her baby. Water safety is very important when bathing. Young children should always be supervised by an adult.

Bath Safety

  1. Never leave a child unattended: Always stay within arm’s reach of your child during bath time. Never leave them alone, even for a moment, as accidents can happen quickly. If you need to step away, take your child with you or ask another responsible adult to supervise.
  2. Check water temperature: Before placing your child in the bath, check the water temperature to ensure it’s safe and comfortable. The water should be warm, around 37-38 degrees Celsius (98-100 degrees Fahrenheit). Use your elbow or a bath thermometer to test the water, as your hands may be less sensitive to temperature.
  3. Use non-slip mats or stickers: Place non-slip mats or stickers on the bathtub floor to prevent your child from slipping and falling. These can provide better traction and reduce the risk of accidents in the slippery environment.
  4. Avoid excessive water depth: Fill the bathtub with only enough water to cover your child’s legs or waist. Avoid filling it to a level where your child’s head could be submerged if they accidentally slip or fall.
  5. Keep bath products within reach: Have all necessary bath products, towels, and a change of clothes within arm’s reach before you start bathing your child. This will prevent you from needing to leave your child unattended to fetch items.
  6. Beware of hot taps and faucets: Keep your child away from hot taps or faucets during bath time. The hot water can cause burns or scalds. Cover the taps with protective covers or use thermostatic faucets that regulate water temperature to prevent accidental burns.
  7. Secure electrical appliances: Ensure that any electrical appliances, such as hair dryers or electric razors, are kept away from the reach of children and are not used near water.
  8. Drain the tub immediately: Once bath time is over, immediately drain the tub. Children can drown in just a few inches of water, so it’s crucial to remove the water to eliminate any drowning hazards.
  9. Educate older siblings: If you have older siblings who help with bath time, make sure they understand the importance of supervising their younger sibling and following bath safety guidelines.

Final thoughts

Water safety isn’t something we can afford to be lax about when it comes to protecting our children. By following best practices and properly supervising our kids, we can have fun and keep them safe.

Looking for more information on safety for kids? Check out my articles on hot cars and kids, fireworks safety, and how to keep kids safe when hiking.

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