Water safety

What are the hazards for children of being around water?

Water is hazardous for young children. In fact, as much fun as water can be, it’s dangerous no matter where you find it — in a bucket, bowl, toilet, tub, sink, puddle, pool, or elsewhere. Parents can avoid tragedy by taking this old adage to heart: A child can drown in less than an inch of water.

The best way to protect your child from accidental drowning is to remove even the smallest source of water from his play area, and if water is present, don’t take your eyes off him for a minute. If you’re at a pool or beach, it’s fine to let him splash and play to his heart’s content — as long as you’re watching.

What do I need to watch out for at a pool or lake?

•  Pool drains were named one of the top five hidden home hazards by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2007. The suction from a pool drain can be strong enough to hold even an adult underwater, pulling on the hair or on the body and forming a seal. Missing covers often cause the problem.

•  Make sure the water is warm enough, preferably between 84 and 87 degrees.

•  Pool water should be properly chlorinated, and natural bodies of water should be unpolluted and safe for wading.

•  If you have a plastic wading pool, drain it and store it in an upright position after each use. If you have a permanent pool, make sure it’s enclosed with a fence that is at least 4 feet high, and lock the gate leading to the pool after each use. After swimming, remove any toys from the water and deck.

•  Make sure the pool or lake is equipped with rescue equipment and a readily accessible phone for emergencies or take a portable phone to the pool in case of emergency and so you won’t be tempted to run into the house to grab a call.

•  Consider taking a child CPR course.

When can my child start taking swimming lessons?

For years the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended against swim classes for very young children on the theory that they create a false sense of security. The idea was that such classes might actually raise the risk of drowning by making parents and other adults less worried and watchful when it comes to water safety.

A study published in the March 2009 issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine seems to prove that theory false. Researchers analyzed drowning data for children ages 1 to 19 years old and found that swimming lessons probably reduce the risk of drowning, rather than increasing it as the AAP feared.

That said, kids typically aren’t developmentally ready for formal swim lessons until around age 4. If your child’s not ready for real lessons, you may want to try taking a swim class together.

As soon as you start bringing your child into the water, begin conveying simple water safety rules such as don’t go near water without an adult, always swim with a buddy, don’t run on the pool deck or boat dock, and jump in feet first. One day your child will surprise you by repeating an oft-heard safety phrase, and as he gets older and really learns to swim, he’ll be familiar with the basics of water safety.

Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board

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