Water Safety and Young Children
Water is one of the most ominous hazards your child will encounter. Young children can drown in only a few inches of water, even if they’ve had swimming instruction. Swimming lessons are not a way to prevent drowning in young children.
In the past, the AAP advised against swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 3 because there was little evidence that lessons prevented drowning or resulted in better swim skills, and there was concern parents would become less vigilant about supervising a child who had learned some swimming skills.
But new evidence shows that children ages 1 to 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction. The studies are small, and they 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 water safety programs for children younger than 1 year of age.
Safety training does not result in a significant increase in poolside safety skills of young children. If you do enroll a child under four years old in a swimming program, be sure the class you choose adheres to guidelines established by the national YMCA. Among other things, these guidelines forbid submersion of young children and encourage parents to participate in all activities. But remember that even a child who knows how to swim needs to be watched constantly. Whenever your child is near water, follow these safety rules:
- Be aware of small bodies of water your child might encounter, such as bathtubs, fishponds, ditches, fountains, rain barrels, 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.
- Children who are swimming—even in a shallow toddler’s pool—always should be watched by an adult, preferably one who knows CPR. 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.
- Be sure the deep and shallow ends of any pool your child swims in are clearly marked. Never allow your 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, particularly the non swimmer, 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. It presents a danger for them as well as for any children they might be supervising.
- 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.
Adapted from Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age Five (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)