There’s nothing more refreshing than spending a hot summer day cooling off at a pool, taking a trip to the beach, jumping into a lake, or getting adventurous at a water park. For many of us, that means the school year is over and summertime has officially arrived! These moments are thrilling, but unless you’re prepared, they could turn dangerous or even worse, deadly. Even the strongest swimmers can drown, so it’s important to know how to avoid drowning and you and your family safe, in and around all water conditions.
Unintentional drowning and the importance of water safety for kids
Drowning is a leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4, and the fifth leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages. For every child killed by unintentional drowning, another 10 end up in the hospital for near drowning incidents, reports the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These children are at risk of suffering from brain damage that can result in learning disabilities, memory issues and permanent loss of basic functions.
Unintentional drowning can happen in the blink of an eye. In less than 2 minutes after a child’s head goes under the water they could lose consciousness.
How does someone drown?
When water enters the lungs, the lungs can’t pump oxygen to the brain or the rest of your body. There’s usually very little time for someone to help and avoid any long term brain trauma once water gets into their lungs and stops oxygen circulation. Preventing a scenario where too much water get into a child’s lungs is the priority and most effective way to avoid drowning.
Many drownings and near-drownings happen when a kid accidentally falls into a swimming pool. But accidents can happen anywhere at any time — at someone’s home during a birthday party or even at your own house during a quiet Sunday. For toddlers (kids age 1- 4), swimming pools pose the greatest risk of submersion injury, according to the CDC. You must know how to be safe around any body of water to avoid unintentional drownings. Here are other ways you can practice kids’ water safety:
- Learn how to swim properly: It’s important for everyone in the family to be a strong swimmer. And you are never too old to learn! Children 6-months-old to adults can enroll in an age-appropriate Red Cross water course to learn how to swim or reach out to your local YMCA or community recreation center (with a pool) to see if there are free courses offered.
- Always swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards: When swimming at public pools or at the beach, it is important to tell kids to stick to designated areas. The beach can be especially dangerous with large crowds, riptides, undercurrents, and waves breaking.
- Permission and patience is needed to be near water: Teach young kids to ALWAYS ask their parents or guardians permission to simply be near a body of water. Also, always walk near a body of water. Never run. Remember that a pool’s sides and bottoms are built with concrete.
- Test the water temperature before you dive in: Cold water can shock your body’s system and make your blood pressure and heart rate go up. You might open your mouth to yell and accidentally breathe in some water. Being submerged in cold water can also slow your muscles, making it more difficult to swim.
- As a parent of a toddler, maintain constant supervision: Have young children or inexperienced swimmers wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water, but always keep an eye on your kids. Always keep a close on what’s going on and do not be distracted by a phone, a conversation, or drinking alcohol. At beaches it’s especially important there be a designated parent or responsible adult acting as a lifeguard at all times. Even if there is a certified lifeguard, beaches can be crowded and crazy places in the summertime.
- Never swim alone: Always swim with a buddy and teach your kids to swim with buddies. Never alone. It’s important to lead by example in this way. If no one sees someone slip and fall hard into the pool, no one will be able to help.
- Avoid roughhousing or bullying in water: Always swim at a depth that is comfortable for you and your level. If you’re just learning how to swim, it may be best to stay in the shallow end. Don’t push or jump on others or flip off the diving board. You could accidentally hurt yourself or land on someone else without realizing it.
- If you have a pool, make sure appropriate barriers are in place: Many children who drown at private pools were out of sight for less than five minutes and in the care of one or both parents at the time. If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability. Avoid distractions when supervising children around water.
- Have appropriate lifeguard equipment at home: Pools at private homes should be equipped with a ring or floatation device that can easily be tossed out into the pool. A couple of life jackets and a first aid kit are important.
- At family pool parties or events, avoid distractions: Avoid loud music, large crowds, and excessive drinking near a pool’s edge. If a child does go missing, always check the water first.
- Have access to a phone to call 911: In case of a drowning emergency time is critical, so it’s important to know how to alert emergency responders to the scene. Don’t hesitate to use a friends phone or ask a stranger to call. Pay phones also allow a 911 dials without payment.
- Drink plenty of water: Even though when you swim you are surrounded by water, swimmers experience dehydration. This is especially true for ocean or lakes that have a heavy amount of salt. Even if you or your child is not thirsty, drink water and avoid heavily caffeinated drinks. As an adult, avoid alcohol.
- Don’t let your children bake in the sun; apply sunblock: Being out in the sun tires you out and sunburn causes fatigue and dehydration. It’s important to curb the amount of direct sunlight kids get during peak hours. Peak sun hours are usually between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Be sure to wear sunblock with at least SPF 30 and reapply even if it is waterproof.
- Learn and become certified in CPR: Enroll in Red Cross home pool safety, water safety, first aid and CPR/AED courses so you can save precious seconds and respond quickly and correctly before emergency responders arrive.
Remember, even though your child may know how to swim, it’s doesn’t mean they can’t tread into trouble while in the water. The best child drowning prevention is always to supervise your child closely when they are in or around any water.