With the arrival of warm weather, so comes the potential for tragedy . Every year in the United States, more than a thousand children die in drowning accidents. The peak period of risk is among toddlers and preschoolers, but a child of any age can be at risk in the wrong circumstances. What can we do to prevent these devastating accidents? The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following guidelines:
- Adult supervision. A wise mentor of mine used to say that having a pool in the yard is like having a freeway out the back door. Every second a child is around water, a designated adult – never another child – needs to be close enough to touch the child and pay complete attention to him. No phones, no magazines, no chit-chat. If the adult needs to look away, he or she needs to hand off supervision duties to another adult with the formality of a shift change -- even if only to dig around the tote bag for a moment to look for the sunscreen. Tragedies can happen that fast.
- Fence the pool, not just the yard. A fence around the perimeter of a pool can cut drowning rates by half. It should be at least 4 feet high with slats less than 4 inches apart, and not chain link. A yard fence, pool alarm or pool cover is not an adequate substitute.
- Look for lifeguards. Unsupervised beaches tend to have more drowning. Adults still need to supervise their children if lifeguards are present. The same holds for public pools.
- Learn CPR. Ideally nobody would need to use this skill, but the sooner resuscitation starts after a rescue, the better the odds of survival. Check the American Red Cross website (redcross.org) for class information.
- Learn to swim. Most children are developmentally ready to learn to swim at age 4. Some research shows a protective effect from lessons from ages 1-4 years, but more studies are needed to know how best to teach water safety to this younger age group. Swim lessons are not a substitute for supervision, but they offer one more layer of protection. I also recommend that parents learn to swim. Again, the American Red Cross is a good resource. On their website you can enter your zip code to search for swim lessons.
- Use life jackets. The U.S. Coast Guard has a helpful website (uscg.mil) with information on life jackets for boating, including choosing the right life jacket for your child. Keep in mind that inflatable arm bands are not designed as water safety devices.
Remember, drowning is a quiet, fast, preventable tragedy. Let’s do everything we can to keep this summer fun and safe!
Dr. Suzanne Condron is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.
Source: Weiss, JW and the AAP Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Technical Report—Prevention of Drowning. Pediatrics 2010; 126; e253.