Pediatric HealthSource: Water Safety Pointers for Parents

Safe swimming practices can help prevent accidental drownings.

Sarah Denny, M.D.
Parents can help ensure their children stay safe in the water.

Q: Now that school is out, my children often ask to go to the pool. How can I keep my kids safe while they swim?

A: Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1-4 and the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in U.S. children 5-19 years old. Many of these deaths occur when young people are not expected to be swimming at all, or when they have unanticipated access to water.

Children are naturally curious, and in the summertime, the pool is often a favorite family activity. Parents can and should implement layers of prevention strategies to keep their families safe around water.

All children and parents should learn how to swim, and families should talk with their pediatrician to determine whether a child is developmentally ready for swim lessons. Swim lessons starting as early as age 1 can reduce a child's risk of drowning. Lessons should be taught by experienced, well-trained instructors, and students should learn basic water skills, including entering and exiting the water, surfacing, moving themselves through the water, changing direction and floating. Everyone should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets when on a boat, and small children and nonswimmers should wear them when they are near water and when swimming.

Children should never be left alone—or in the care of another child—while in or around bathtubs, pools, spas or other open water. Buckets and other containers should be emptied immediately after use, because even a small amount of water can be dangerous to a young child. Teens also should be supervised, since youth ages 10-19 are the group with the second-highest risk of drowning and are more likely to be overconfident in their swimming abilities.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

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Sarah Denny, M.D., FAAP, is an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Dr. Sarah Denny of Nationwide Children's Hospital

Parent Pointers

Drowning is often silent and quick. To help prevent drowning and keep kids and teens safe while they keep cool this summer, parents should:

  • Assign a “water watcher” – A water watcher is an adult who pays close, constant attention to children in the water. Water watchers should supervise even when lifeguards are present, avoid cellphone use and other activities, and switch off with other adults for breaks.
  • Stay within arm's reach – Touch supervision is vital to water safety. Parents should be able to physically reach their children at all times while in or around bodies of water.
  • Install a fence – Pools should have fencing around all four sides—not counting the house as a side—with self-closing/self-latching gates that are out of children's reach. Barriers are key to preventing unintended access to water.