Making Sure Little Swimmers are Safe

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

Water can serve as a magnet for children. Something about it is innately appealing whether the water is a rain puddle or a swimming pool. As summer gets underway, scores of children head out to play in pools. In addition, families go on vacations to be around water by heading to the beach or going to the lake.

Unfortunately, children’s fascination with water can be deadly. Children between the ages of one to four years old are most at-risk for drowning. In fact, drowning for this age group is the second leading cause of death. Due to this high risk, parents need to take certain precautions with their little ones.

One of the most effective precautions to prevent drowning in young children is for them to take formal swimming lessons. There are several community outlets that provide formal swimming lessons for young children including the YMCA, City of Richmond, Arlington Club, Eastern Kentucky University, City of Berea, and Berea College. The lessons teach young children how to hold their breath underwater and use basic swimming techniques which can prove to be life savers if children fall into a pool.

A second precaution is to closely supervise young children when they are around a pool or other body of water. The one to four year old age group needs particularly close “touch” supervision. This means that a supervising adult needs to always be within touching distance of the child.

Drowning can occur quickly and silently so supervising adults need to pay full attention to monitoring the child. This means not being distracted by texting, checking e-mail, or reading while the child is around a pool. This level of attention should occur regardless of the presence of lifeguards as a young child may not be spotted in time by the lifeguards as they need to constantly scan the whole pool and all of the swimmers in it.

A third step is to get young children life jackets until they are considered strong swimmers. Life jackets are designed to keep children above the water and keep them safe. Air filled “swimmers” or foam toys are not designed as safety devices. Therefore, parents would be best off spending their money on an appropriately sized life jackets for their children.

A fourth step that parents can take is to learn Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). If the unthinkable happens, a parents applying CPR to a child until the paramedics arrive could save her life. Parents should probably be retrained in CPR if their last training was more than five years ago as the procedure has changed.

Finally, young children are most likely to drown in home pools. This can be prevented by making sure a home pool has fencing along all four sides of the pool, isolating it. The fence should be at least four feet tall and have self-closing and self-latching gates that open outward. A child can’t drown if she can’t get into the pool area. Owners of home pools should also clean up in and around the pool so there aren’t any pool or deck toys that would serve as temptations for young children to want to get into that area.

Enjoying the summer around the pool, at the lake, or at the beach is a quintessential part of summer. Make sure young children are able to enjoy the experience along with everybody else and stay safe in the process.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on July 6, 2014.

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