Water Safety for Kids

Child water safety

Pool safety is not to be taken lightly. As a Red Cross-certified Water Safety Instructor (WSI), parents regularly ask me how they can protect their children from drowning. And, living in Florida where we are surrounded by water, these questions come with urgency. The CDC reports that on average 10 people drown every day. For those aged 5-24, it’s the second leading cause of accidental death. Whether you have a pool or not, the threat is real. According to the International Life Saving Federation, kids can drown in less than two inches of water – that means bathtubs, sinks, buckets, and deep puddles are all risk zones. Anyone with children should become well-versed in the dangers of drowning to protect their family from tragedy. Aside from being a prepared, watchful parent, take the time to equip your kids for safe water-play as well.

Be Honest

In all my years working with children, I’ve learned that kids are endlessly curious. They want to see and experience everything they can. When it comes to water, I find that a candid introduction is best. Students who don’t know the danger of pools are more likely to jump in without considering how they’ll get out, whereas students who have a solid understanding of the risk of drowning proceed with caution. That said, don’t baby your child around water. This will only incite panic if they should find themselves in the pool on their own. You want them to react calmly and find the nearest side immediately without taking in water – two things that are difficult to do if they’re hysterical. Don’t sidestep their questions either – kids should know what can happen if they’re not careful near the pool, ocean or lake. And it doesn’t make you a bad parent to be upfront about the possibility of drowning.

Sign Up for Swim Lessons

If your children are of swimming age, get them into lessons right away. The Red Cross recommends beginning swim training as young as six months to introduce infants to the pool and to prepare them for more formal swimming instruction in the future. Swim classes not only establish a positive association with the water; they also address the dangers and teach kids how to safely handle risky situations. Classes taught according to the Red Cross method will include routine dry-land safety lessons such as swimming with a buddy, wearing a life jacket while boating, following pool rules, and throwing rescue equipment to someone in need without getting in the pool themselves. Beyond that, your child will also learn basic in-pool survival skills such as rolling to their back when tired, treading water, and returning to the side independently. If your child is old enough, they may also learn rescue breathing and other basic lifesaving techniques.

Even if your child is not ready to swim on their own, it’s absolutely essential that they learn to blow bubbles. The Red Cross teaching method includes bubble-blowing as a foundational skill to be practiced in mom-and-tot classes as early as six months old. The goal is to encourage an automatic exhale when submerging to avoid choking on water. I find that the easiest way to practice is to invest in a few sinking toys and play with them in the shallow end of the pool or on the steps (or even in the tub!). Encourage your child to put their whole face in the water so they get used to the feeling of bubbles around their eyes and ears. With practice, bubble-blowing will become mechanical. Although it’s a basic skill, knowing how to blow bubbles could save your child’s life if they fall or are pushed into a pool.

Although more common in infants, taking in too much water can lead to hyponatremia or secondary drowning. As described by the Mayo Clinic, hyponatremia is an imbalance in sodium levels, caused by ingesting (or drinking) excessive amounts of water. Conversely, secondary drowning is caused by inhaling water into the lungs. Dr. Juan Fitz of the American College of Emergency Physicians describes this as a failure of the lungs’ alveoli to exchange oxygen with the blood, causing blood oxygen levels to decrease. This can lead to asphyxiation anywhere from one to 24 hours after a near-drowning incident. Drowning doesn’t have to happen below the surface, and it may not be apparent that it’s happening. If kids aren’t properly trained to exhale when their face is submerged, they may take in water by ingesting or inhaling. Look out for signs of inhaling water such as coughing and spitting up. In both cases, watch for warning signs such as listlessness, vomiting, coughing, and behaving abnormally. If you notice any of these symptoms, head to the emergency room immediately.

Install Physical Barriers

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that 65 percent of drowning’s happen in pools owned by the victim’s immediate family. If you have a home pool or a backyard pond, consider a physical barrier in addition to teaching your child to swim. Among the myriad of options, fencing is the most highly recommended. If you choose to install a fence, the CPSC recommends pool fencing be at least four feet with no foot or handrails, have slats no less than four inches apart and a gate closure that latches out of reach of the children.

Even with all the precautions you take, kids find their way into some risky situations. The best thing you can do is to encourage them to behave their best while preparing them to react to the worst. Sign up for swim lessons as soon as you can. Before that, take babies into the water with you and practice bubble blowing and back floating. A child who is totally unfamiliar with water will panic; a child who has spent time practicing will react calmly and confidently.

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Lizzy Bullock

Swimming Instructor at AquaGear
Lizzy Bullock is a Red Cross certified swimming instructor (WSI) with a decade of experience helping children overcome fear and swim independently. Lizzy currently works as a swimming instructor and staff writer for AquaGear, a swim school and online swim shop.

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