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Family by the pool

Pool Safety: Even Calm Water Isn't Harmless

By Dr. Stephen Restaino, General Academic Pediatrics

Swimming is a fun, healthy summer activity, but pool safety is a must. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children between the ages of 1 and 4.

Pool safety doesn’t just apply to swimming sessions. If you have a pool or are visiting a home or facility that does, how can you help ensure your child is safe even when they aren’t swimming?

  • Establish pool rules. Set rules for your child to follow that apply to any pool time. For example, there should be no running or riding toys of any kind near the pool. Do not allow children to dive off the side of the pool, and always enter a pool feet first, especially when going in for the first time.
  • Stay near a lifeguard. Make sure there are lifeguards present when you’re at a public pool. While a lifeguard is not a substitute for a designated adult supervising your children, a lifeguard can help spot a child in trouble if you don’t.
  • Install a barrier around the pool. Tragedies can happen right in your own backyard. Prevent your child from falling into the pool by installing a fence that is at least 4 feet high and teach them not to climb over it. The pool should only be accessible through a self-closing and latching gate, and items such as lawn chairs or other furniture should not be near the fence, to prevent climbing. If you’re at a pool that doesn’t have these safety measures, make sure your child is wearing a life vest.
  • Stay away from drains. The drains or suction outlets in pools can catch children’s hair, limbs, jewelry, or bathing suits, holding them under water. Teach your children to stay away from drains and never enter a pool with a loose, broken, or missing drain cover.
  • Don’t play around lane ropes. Make sure your child knows that the lane marker/rope is not a toy and could cause serious harm if it becomes wrapped around their neck or limbs.
  • Teach your child to only dive off the diving board. If your child dives off the side of the pool, the water may not be deep enough and they could suffer from a head or neck injury. Make sure only experienced swimmers are diving and have been taught the proper way to do so. The rule of thumb is to enter the pool feet first in shallow water or anywhere you’re unsure of its depth.
  • Empty kiddie pools when not in use. Young children can drown in as little as one inch of water. Make sure to empty tubs, buckets, containers, and kiddie pools when not in use and store them upside down and out of reach.
  • Watch for poolside items. Keep all toys away from the pool when the pool is not in use. Never have electrical appliances such as blenders or air pumps near the pool. Have a U.S. Coast Guard- approved life preserver near the pool that can be thrown to a child in the water, if needed.
  • Teach kids not to run. Some surfaces around pools become slippery when wet. If a child trips and falls into the pool, they could be seriously injured or drown.

For all water situations

  • Go over the rules before entering any water situation. Lay down strict rules and go over each one before entering any situation with a body of water.
  • Teach your child to ask permission. Your child should know to ask permission before getting into or even approaching the water.
  • Provide “touch supervision” for non-swimmers. For infants, toddlers, and any children who are not swimmers, an adult should be in the pool providing “touch supervision,” meaning they are within arm’s reach of the child.
  • Never leave a child unattended. Even if a lifeguard is present, it’s important that you, or a designated person, is always supervising your child. With older kids, you can establish a buddy system with another child so they are never alone, but you should still keep watch.
  • Teach your child to never pretend to drown. If your child pretends to be drowning, and the lifeguard or another adult takes them seriously, their display could prevent someone else’s life from being saved.
  • Teach your child how to swim. Swimming skills are as important as safety strategies in keeping children safe.
  • Enter the water feet first. The safest way to enter the water is feet first to avoid head injuries. If your experienced swimmer wants to dive, make sure they know the appropriate depth for diving and never to dive into the shallow end or any body of water with an unknown depth.
  • Teach kids to get out of the water before they become tired. Swimming can drain your child’s energy, especially when you factor in the hot sun. Set a time limit for swimming and stick to it.
  • Wear a life vest. Life vests can help your inexperienced swimmer stay above water if they fall in or wander out on their own. Inflatable “floaties” are not a substitute for life jackets/vests.
  • No swimming during thunder and lightning.
  • Don’t allow horseplay. Dunking can seem playful until a child doesn’t realize their peer is struggling. Don’t allow horseplay and never dunk your child, even playfully.
  • Teach your children about the dangers of the water. Your child doesn’t want to get hurt just as much as you. Make them aware of the dangers of playing in water so they will take care in any situation.
  • Keep a phone nearby in case of emergency. Be prepared to call for help if needed by keeping a phone nearby at all times. Make sure it is charged and easy to locate.
  • Know CPR. All parents should learn infant and child CPR. Proper training in this first-aid technique can make a lifesaving difference until emergency help arrives. Check with your pediatrician or the American Red Cross for information about an approved CPR course in your area.

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About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.