Few summer activities are more fun for kids than playing in a pool or a water park. But keeping an eye on your splashing, squirming, darting little darling is serious business. The statistics are sobering; drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death among kids ages 1 to 4.
You think you know the basics of keeping your child safe, but there may be some you’re missing. Janet Evans, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, is an ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation and its Make a Splash campaign. As a mother of two kids ages 7 and 4, she has plenty of hands-on experience keeping kids safe in the water—and smart insights into the pool mistakes even careful parents make.
1. “My child is too young to learn to swim.”
There are differing opinions on when to teach kids to swim, but I believe that introducing a child at a young age to the water — and acclimating them to the way their body feels in the water — is invaluable in eventually teaching them how to swim. My daughter took her first swim lesson at four months, and my son took his first lesson at four weeks. Statistics compiled by the USA Swimming Foundation prove that when you put your child in formal swimming lessons, it reduces their risk of drowning by 88 percent.
2. “The lifeguard will watch them.”
Lifeguards are just one person, and no matter how good they are, they cannot watch every child. I have been teased at pool parties for literally sitting in one place — usually next to the lifeguard — and scanning the pool along with the guard. Drownings at pool parties are swift and silent, and usually take place with adults standing feet away from the pool.
3. “My child is water safe.”
“No child is ever water safe. I am an Olympic champion, and I am not water safe! I could trip on the pool deck, hit my head and fall in. As a USA Swimming Foundation Ambassador, I stress the importance of keeping children “safer” in and around the water, giving us one less thing to worry about.
4. “I can solely rely on water wings to teach my kids to swim.”
“Parents think that water wings help their kids learn how to swim, but most water safety advocates do not recommend them because they give children a false sense of security. When a child accidentally falls in a pool it is generally without water wings on. They need to know how to swim without them.”
5. “My pool is safe.”
While not the most common form of drowning, drain entrapments are common. As such, parents should make sure that their pool’s drain and pump systems are compliant with current state and federal regulations (find information at Pool Safely). And don’t be shy about asking your local public pool if their drains and pump symptoms are compliant. You also want to keep the deck free of pool toys and other objects, so no child can trip and fall into the pool.
6. “I can leave the pool for a few minutes to answer the phone or grab something from the house.”
Once again, no child is ever pool- or water-safe. Drowning is silent and takes two minutes. Never take your eyes off of your child while they are in a body of water for any reason.
7. “I don’t need a gate around my pool.”
Children can slip out of homes and into a pool unnoticed, and even children with swimming abilities could run into trouble. Home pools (along with hot tubs and jacuzzis) should have a self-locking gate around them if children are present in and around the home at any time.
8. “If I can’t find my child, I should search the house before checking the pool.”
If your home has a pool, it should be the very first place you look. Once again, drowning is swift and silent.
9. “I’ll know what to do if my child needs help.”
Every adult should know CPR (find an accredited course at your local American Red Cross and YMCA) and the actions to take if they find a child unconscious in a pool. You can never be too prepared.
Top image source: Flickr/garyt70; bottom image source: Janet Evans