With summer here, parents are frequently pooling their thoughts and asking me for tips on keeping their children safe when they are around pools and other bodies of water. Let me dive right in and provide some information on water safety and kids.

Drowning remains one of the leading killers of young children in the US, with over 1000 children dying from drowning each year, most in home swimming pools. If you don’t want this to happen to your child, and no one does, here are some suggestions.

First, teach your child how to swim. While swimming lessons are given to infants and toddlers, studies suggest these can lower but not eliminate the risk of drowning between the ages of 1 and 4 but unfortunately do not lower the risk of drowning in children under 1. Make sure the swimming class adheres to YMCA guidelines, which forbid submersion of young children and encourage parental participation in all activities. By age 4, all children who are going to be in and about a body or water or pool should certainly be taught how to swim.    

Never leave a child unobserved around any body of water. A child can drown in under 20 seconds, the same time it takes you to go inside and answer a phone or the front door. Ideally babysitters, parents, and grandparents should learn CPR if they are going to watch a child by a pool or lake. Older children should always be with a buddy who can swim if an adult is not around to supervise.

Children who cannot swim should wear proper-fitting Coast-Guard-approved floatation devices when in the water. Water wings and inner tubes are not effective protection against drowning.

Pools need to be completely enclosed with a self-locking, self-closing fence at least four feet high with slats less than four inches wide that children cannot crawl through or reach up to open. Pool toys should not be left out when not in use since these can attract children into the pool area when supervision may not be present. 

Finally it is a good idea to have a cell phone with you when your children are in the water so that 911 can be dialed immediately if there is a water emergency.

Hopefully tips like these will make a big splash when it comes to knowing more about how to protect your child in the water this summer.  

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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