Swimming Safety Tips for Parents and Kids

No running by the pool! 
No horseplay! 
Wait 30 minutes after you eat before swimming!

We all heard these clichés about pool safety while we were growing up, and have maybe even shared them with our own kids.

But safety when it comes to swimming is actually incredibly serious and important.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the number one cause of injury-related death in children ages 4 and under.

This isn’t meant to scare you – it’s meant to prepare you.

With hot summer days upon us, kids will be eager to splish, splash, and cannonball. And that’s fine, swimming is a great way to beat the heat!

Before your family dives into the deep end this summer, here are some tips to keep everyone swimming safely:

Talk about swim safety

First things first: Talk to your kids about why being safe around water is so important. 

As scary and upsetting as drowning is, it must become part of the ongoing parenting conversation. Talk with your kids about all aspects of water safety. Almost 70% of childhood drownings happen when kids aren’t swimming; they may wander over to a neighbor’s yard, slip through an unlocked back door during playtime, or tumble into a kiddie pool filled with rainwater. We should teach young children that water can be dangerous, just like cars.

You could tell them, “Don’t go in or near the water without a grown-up, just like you don’t cross the street without a grown-up. It’s dangerous.” 

Never leave your children unattended around water

Kids must be watched whenever they’re around water. This is true whether the water is in a bathtub, a wading pool, an ornamental fish pond, a swimming pool, a spa, an ocean, or a lake.

Young children are especially at risk. They can drown in less than 2 inches of water. That means drowning can happen in a sink, toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home, such as ditches filled with rainwater.

Always watch children closely when they’re in or near any water, no matter what their swimming skills are. Even kids who know how to swim can be at risk of drowning. For instance, a child could slip and fall on the pool deck, lose consciousness, and fall into the pool.

If there’s a party or group of you swimming, you could designate an official ‘Water Watcher,’ an adult tasked with supervising children in the water. That should be their only task – they shouldn’t be reading, texting, or playing games on their phone. 

It’s important for ‘Water Watchers’ (or parents if you’re the Watcher) to know what a child in distress looks like. Kids drown silently and quickly, often when they are vertical in the water with their heads tipped back. Unlike what you see in movies, a child rarely splashes, flails his arms, or yells for help.

Young kids and weak swimmers should also have an adult swimmer within arm’s reach to provide touch supervision.

Make swim lessons a healthcare priority

Even if you don’t live close to water, your child will end up near it at some point, whether on vacation or at someone else’s home. Taking swim lessons absolutely cannot “drown-proof” anyone, but according to a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), swimming lessons may be beneficial to children between the ages of 1 and 4. 

If you’re not sure what that means for your kid, you can always ask your pediatrician for guidance. Then, when it’s time, get lessons on the calendar. 

Kids and parents often can take swim lessons and water safety classes together. Check local recreation centers for classes taught by a qualified instructor. If you’re not sure where to start, try your local YMCA or Red Cross.

You can also teach them to swim yourself! Here’s a great overview for teaching kids of any age to swim.

Don’t rely on water wings, floaties, inner tubes, or noodles

These are pool toys. If someone needs added support in the pool, use only flotation devices labeled Coast Guard-Approved.

Don’t let your kids play with pool drains and covers

Even when properly equipped, pool drains and covers can be hazardous. They should never play near drains or suctions. Entrapments occur when someone or something becomes stuck to these drains or suctions and pose a danger to young children who are too small to break away.

Powerful suction from a pool or spa drain can even trap an adult. So, make sure your child knows to stay away.

Have your emergency plan in place

Knowing even basic CPR and acting immediately – instead of waiting for emergency responders – can make the difference between life and death in drowning cases or anytime a person’s heart stops. Minimally, learn CPR for infants and children yourself. 

You could also round up a group of parents and sign up for CPR classes together or host your own CPR training at home.

Even if a child doesn’t need CPR after being submerged, having water in her lungs can still lead to serious trouble. Watch for coughing, lethargy, and rapid breathing, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or take your child to the emergency room.

If you still have any questions or concerns when it comes to swimming safety, schedule a visit with your child’s pediatrician. Summer fun awaits!