Do You Know How to Prevent Drowning in Kids? Experts Share 9 Life-Saving Tips

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To ensure your kids splash around safely this summer, follow these tips from Cory Showalter, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Riley at IU Health.

For children, sunny skies and warmer weather usher in thoughts of pool parties and beach days. However, being around water can also mean an increased risk of drowning. In fact, kids ages 1 through 4 have the highest risk of drowning, and drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death (behind car accidents) for kids ages 1 through 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To ensure your kids splash around safely this summer, follow these tips from Cory Showalter, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Riley at IU Health.

1. Always supervise children. This is true whether your children are around a lake, river, beach, hot tub, inflatable pools, fountains, or even ditches filled with rainwater. While it’s easy to get distracted and caught up in conversations, remember that mere seconds count when it comes to water emergencies: Be sure at least one adult is in charge of watching the children at all times. “Cell phones should not be used when supervising kids, nor should alcoholic beverages,” says Dr. Showalter. “Remember that you should be within arms distance of all kids while they are swimming.”

2. Learn CPR. “I would suggest CPR training for any adult who has children or supervises kids,” says Dr. Showalter. You can find a class near you for this life-saving training at your local Red Cross.

3. Be mindful of sneaky water hazards. Babies under 1-year old can drown in even two inches of water, so whether it’s a bath tub, a bucket, or a shallow inflatable baby pool, never leave your child alone when they are near water, even for a few seconds. “We have had cases where kids have crawled onto a pool cover and drowned in the water sitting on top of the cover (just a small amount of water accumulates around the weight of the child),” says Dr. Showalter. “So all pools—even those with automatic safety covers—also need fences with self-locking gates, and functioning pumps on top of the covers to get rid of accumulated rain water.”

4. Get good-fitting floatation devices. Make sure your kids always wear United States Coast Guard approved life jackets when on boats or docks, and babies should have a life vest with a strap between the legs and neck support to ensure that their heads don’t dip in the water. Weak swimmers should also wear life jackets whenever they are around water, even pools. “It’s important to note that no flotation devices work well enough to replace proper adult supervision, so don't be overly-assured that your child is safe just because he is wearing flotation gear,” says Dr. Showalter. Also, arm floaties (also known as puddle jumpers) won’t prevent your little one from drowning.

5. Head off hypothermia. Body temperatures can drop quickly, and little ones may be so absorbed in splashing around that they won’t want to get out even when cold. So, always remove your child from the water if you notice him shivering.

6. Sign up for swim lessons. “One to four years old is probably the most dangerous age for water safety because the children are very mobile and curious and have some swimming ability that can quickly get them in trouble,” says Dr. Showalter. “Swimming classes are offered even for infants, so safe, well-supervised lessons from licensed institutions are a good idea at any age.”

7. Try to minimize rowdiness around slick pool decks. The areas around pools are wet and slippery, making it easy for a child to fall and suffer head trauma. “We see many head injuries with kids around pools,” says Dr. Showalter. “Seek appropriate medical attention if the head injury is associated with vomiting, loss of consciousness, significant bleeding, or a change in mental status, such as confusion.”

8. Don’t assume a child who knows how to swim isn’t at risk of drowning. Your child may be able to swim like a fish, but don’t let his mastery make you drop your guard: Being physically tired from all that splashing could weaken his stroke, and even the strongest swimmers can become victims of underwater currents or lose consciousness after hitting their heads on the bottom of a pool when taking a dive. “Also, take special precautions when at a lake or ocean, because the landscape is very different then swimming in a pool,” says Dr. Showalter.

9. Make sure your child knows the water safety rules. Frequently go over water safety rules with kids. Dr. Showalter suggests sharing these guidelines: Always have a buddy, keep track of your buddy, know where the deep end of the pool is, and know who your supervising adult is in case you or another child need help.

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Cory D. Showalter, MD

Emergency Medicine