Child water safety: Protect kids against drowning by following these precautions


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When the warm summer weather rolls in, pool covers are pulled back and a cooling dip becomes a staple of the season. 

Since swimming pools and summer go hand in hand, it’s the perfect time for a refresher on water safety. 

Birth defects aside, drowning is the most common cause of death among children ages 1 to 4, according to the American Red Cross. Children younger than 1 are more likely to drown at home, while for those younger than 5, 87% of drowning incidents happen in home pools or hot tubs. As children age, lakes and ponds become a dangerous setting for potential drowning. Children 5 to 17 are more likely to drown in natural water such as this. 

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Dr. Corinne Bria, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Florida, said the single most important tool to prevent drowning in children is knowledge.

“As a pediatrician, it is my responsibility to educate parents and caregivers about how to prevent drownings,” she told Fox News Digital.

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“Drowning can happen to anyone. No one is immune to this devastation, and it’s important to know and take active steps to ensure water safety.”

Keep children safe in pools and other bodies of water by following these tips.

  1. Ensure proper supervision
  2. Choose a proper flotation device
  3. Use caution even around shallow water
  4. Enclose all pools with fences
  5. Enroll your child in swim lessons
  6. Act quickly and perform CPR
Child water safety split

Besides birth defects, drowning is the most common cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 in the U.S., according to the American Red Cross. (iStock)

1. Ensure proper supervision

When it comes to water safety, pediatricians frequently discuss “direct supervision” or “touch supervision,” Bria said. 

These are both important strategies to prevent drowning, which is a silent process, she added.

“Touch supervision means an adult is physically in the water, holding and playing with the children,” Bria said.

“Direct supervision means there is a designated adult, a water watcher, who is monitoring the children in and around the water,” Bria went on. “The water watcher sits by the pool or walks around the pool, continuously watching the children in and around the water.”

When it comes to water, tragedy could happen in a split second, so it is vital that there are eyes on children at all times. 

2. Choose a proper flotation device

Children should always wear life jackets when around a body of water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Children jumping in a pool

Always ensure that children are wearing a properly fitting flotation device before going into the pool. (iStock)

The AAP recommends using U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or life preservers based on the weight of the child. 

“It’s important to test the fit of the life vest on the child prior to use to ensure the vest is snug around the waist,” said Bria. 

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“This prevents [children] from slipping out of an ill-sized vest while in the water.”

As your child grows, new flotation devices will be needed. Be sure to stay updated with proper flotation devices to avoid a water tragedy. 

3. Use caution even around shallow water

Shallow water doesn’t mean safe water. 

If your child is just in a little bit of water, such as a miniature backyard pool or a slip and slide with a small pool of water at the bottom, you should continue to keep a close eye on them.

Infants and small children can drown in as little as 2 inches of water, including in bathtubs, toilets and 5-gallon buckets, Bria pointed out.

“It is important to supervise babies, toddlers and small children around all forms of water, both inside and outside the home,” she said.

4. Enclose all pools with fences

For infants, most drown in bathtubs and buckets of water, according to the AAP. For preschool-aged children, the majority of drownings happen in swimming pools, according to the source. 

Enclosing all pools with a fence is the single most effective way to prevent drownings, the AAP notes on its website. 

Toddler splashing around in pool

Having a secure fence surrounding a pool can help keep children safe. (iStock)

The fence should have four sides, be at least 4 feet high, be climb-proof and have a self-closing, self-latching gate that children cannot reach.

Then, remember to keep the fence securely latched at all times, so a child can’t push through. 

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This is one simple thing that you can do to keep your child safe while outside. 

Even if the pool is enclosed, it’s still vital to keep an eye on children, as they could sneak through a faulty fence. 

5. Enroll your child in swim lessons

Participation in formal swimming lessons was linked to an 88% decrease in drowning risks among children between 1 and 4 years old, studies have shown.

Many children can begin swim lessons at age 1, per the AAP. For kids ages 4 and up, the lessons are a “must.”

Your child having knowledge of swim instructions, including how to keep their head above water in an emergency, is an added layer of protection. 

Swimming is a great skill to have, so starting kids off at a young age can help them learn sooner and be more advanced as they get older. 

6. Act quickly and perform CPR

Every single second counts when considering drowning. If you see something happening, act as fast as you can and remove the child from the water.

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“Remember, drowning is silent and very different from what we see in movies or on TV,” Bria said. “If you find a person submerged in the water, get the person out of the water, call 911 and begin CPR.”

An adult hand reaching for a child's in a pool

If you see a child drowning, pull them out as quickly as possible, call 911 and perform CPR. (iStock)

The process for assisting a child who has drowned is different based on their age and size. 

“For puberty age, you’ll treat them as an adult,” said Steve Conti, firefighter, paramedic and AHA CPR instructor. “If you see body hair, you will treat them as an adult.”

“If you have questions about water safety, ask your pediatrician.”

Conti advises at least 100 hard and fast compressions per minute for an older child while using the heel of your palm at the center of the chest, bottom of the sternum.

You’ll want to check the carotid artery on the neck of the young adolescent for a pulse. 

For a young, small child who cannot speak or communicate and is not adequately breathing, Conti advises checking the child’s brachial pulse inside the arm. 

Proceed with 30 compressions per minute with two fingers.

“For children, the chest compressions should be slightly gentler than for adults,” he said. 

“And it’s important to avoid over-inflation during breaths.”

Conti also advises being careful of a child’s neck in case of a fall. 

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Often, children will slip and fall into a pool and, unless an adult saw the accident, a head or neck injury without bleeding may not be easily diagnosed. It’s best to be as quick but gentle as possible when removing the child from the water.

While having knowledge of CPR is a start, learning from a professional and maintaining education could save a life.

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“Your actions can truly make a difference between life and death and between full recovery and long-term disability,” said Conti. “Regularly refreshing your knowledge and skills in CPR, AED use and water safety can save lives.”

“If you have questions about water safety, ask your pediatrician,” Bria continued. “This is an important conversation to have.”

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Drowning can happen to anyone.

“Be intentional and deliberate in recognizing and mitigating the risks to prevent children from drowning,” said Bria.



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