Pools, lakes, oceans, and water parks can be lots of fun for families. But having fun safely is possible only when parents are alert to potential dangers — and that means paying constant attention to your kids when they are in or around water.
Most drowning accidents occur from April through September. The most common victim is a 2-year-old playing in a family pool, although small children can drown even in a couple of inches of water in a wading pool or bathtub. Children do not thrash and sputter when they fall into water. Rather, they usually slip under without crying out or making any other sound. If adults are not paying attention, the incident can go unnoticed.
Here are some points to remember to make water play safer for your family:
No child is water safe. Swimming lessons for infants and toddlers do not make them water safe, no matter what advertisements claim. When children are in the water, parents should be within arm's length at all times and not engaged in conversation. Toddlers and small children can go under, and older children need parents to keep a rein on horseplay and risky behavior.
Learn CPR, and keep yourself current. You can save your own or other people's children with basic knowledge of CPR. It's wise to take a refresher course every two years through the Red Cross, your local hospital, or an adult education center.
Do not rely on inflatables. Inflated rings that fit around the waist, "floaties" that slip onto the upper arms, and inner tubes should not be trusted to keep children's heads above the water 100 percent of the time. If a child falls into the water while wearing a ring on his waist, he may float upside down, with feet up and head down. Floaties can deflate, and they do not ensure that a child's head will remain above water. Even children who are good swimmers can't be counted on to use good judgment or to stay calm when something goes wrong with an inflatable.
Good fences protect. If you have a backyard pool, go beyond the minimum legal requirements for pool safety in your community. Install a surrounding fence that is at least five feet tall, with a lockable latch placed high. Pole or stake fences are best; avoid chain-link fences or ones with holes that make it easy for kids to climb. A sliding glass door leading from the house to the pool is not a safe barriera moment of inattention can give children access. If you can get to the pool from the inside of your house, make sure the entrance is secure and child safe.
Check pool grates. Make sure all grates covering drains in the pool are intact and in place. Children's hair can get caught in an open drain, and small swimmers can be firmly held underwater by suction.
Be vigilant at parties. If there are several children at a pool party, keep an adult by the pool for the duration of the party. Tragedy can occur if a young guest wanders outside while everyone else is having birthday cake inside. As a matter of fact, if your child is a guest, the best idea is to stay and keep an eye on her. Keep a portable phone at poolside to call for help in case of an emergency.
Vests are best. If you're boating, make sure everyone has a Coast Guard-approved life vest. These should be worn by children from the moment they approach the dock at the start of your outing until they get into the car to go home. Adults should wear life vests at all times on the boat. If children swim around a boat, keep them away from the engine. Not only can the propeller cause injury if the motor is started, but there have been reports of carbon monoxide poisoning from exhaust while children swam behind boats.
Look before they leap. Do not let children jump into lakes or rivers until you have made sure it is safe to do so. Check to see that the bottom does not drop off suddenly, that there are no submerged rocks or logs, and that currents are not too strong.
Help the lifeguards. Lifeguards are not the only ones who should keep an eye on your children; you should watch them carefully too. Sometimes a crowded pool makes it difficult for a lifeguard to spot someone in trouble, and nobody is going to watch your children as closely as you do.