Swimming Safety

I will never forget the day. I was in the pool with my 3 children; my youngest was 2 years old at the time. I was helping one of the older children blow up a swim toy. As I put the toy in the water, I saw my 2-year-old inches from my feet, wide-eyed and panicked--at the bottom of the pool. Fortunately, my child was fine--but how quickly we could have had a different outcome!

Drowning is silent, happens fast, and frequently occurs with an adult nearby who's distracted. You have to be hyper-vigilant while your child is in or near a pool--and particularly so if the pool is in your own backyard.

Things to remember when in the water with your kids

  • Never leave children alone when they are near or in a pool or any other body of water (bathtub included!). At one time or another, everyone thinks that they can just run into the house for a moment to grab a towel or sunscreen, but don’t do it. Make it your policy that if you have to take your attention away at any time, everyone must get out of the pool.
  • Don’t talk on the phone while your children are swimming. It’s easy to get distracted and not even be aware of what is happening right in front of you. The same goes for sitting with a group of parents and gabbing/talking. Make sure you keep track of what is happening in the pool.
  • Don’t assume that your child is “safe” because they're wearing a life vest or floaties.
  • Be in the pool and within arm’s reach with infants and toddlers who can’t swim.
  • Don’t rely on the lifeguard. Just because a pool has a lifeguard doesn’t mean you're off duty. Think of all the heads they have to watch and how quickly accidents can happen.
  • Start swimming lessons at a young age. Many 2-year-olds can learn to kick and climb out of a pool. (The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents of small children about the dangers of water intoxication, when a baby swallows harmful amounts of water. This can only be a hazard, however, if a baby is being taught with forced, premature, and repeated submersions, or with forced back floating. Seek out only those swimming programs that teach a gentle, gradual, child-paced curriculum that follows safe teaching guidelines.
  • Even if your child has learned how to kick and climb out of a pool, still be vigilant while they are in the water.
  • Find out about the pool’s spa and pool drains. Some drains have strong suction that can entrap a child underwater. Anti-entrapment drains are available, and most public pools should have long ago replaced their drains with these, but don’t assume that these replacememnts have been made--and be sure to check. And, if you have a home pool, figure out what kind of drain you have and make any necessary changes.
  • If you have teenagers, make sure they know never, ever, to swim alone.
  • Teach your children not to dive into water unless it's an area specifically designated for diving. Explain to them that hundreds of children are permanently paralyzed every year when they dive into too-shallow water and injure their spinal cords.
  • Always have a phone near you, so you can call for help quickly if necessary.

If you have a home pool

  • Make sure you have a fence at least 4 feet high on all four sides of the pool.
  • Remember that even those temporary, above-ground inflatable pools must be fenced when they are filled with water.
  • Check that all pool gates are self-closing and self-latching.
  • If your house is acting as the “fourth side” of your fence, I would still recommend trying to fence off that side of the pool. A physical barrier is always your best bet. Even some sort of temporary fence for pools, which can be easily taken down for entertaining, is preferable to no fence at all.
  • If you can't put up the fourth side of your fence, alarm your doors and the pool.
  • Don’t take away the alarms or baby safety fences just because your child has had swimming lessons. Always plan for the worst and keep precautions in place.
  • Empty baby pools whenever you are not using them.

Swimming is great fun, it's cool in the summer heat and good exercise. But keeping water safety in mind at all times is critical to avoid devastating accidents.

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