Drowning is among the leading causes of death in children, making it a significant but preventable public health problem. In the U.S., there are an estimated 3,960 fatal drownings yearly, averaging 11 deaths every day. It often happens quietly and takes only a few seconds.
Teaching children how to be safe around water is essential. For tips on water safety for kids, see this article.
Common Reasons for Drowning Injuries and Death
Not all drowning injuries happen the same. Here are some common reasons why a drowning accident may occur.
Lack of Supervision
A child can drown in as little as a few inches of water. Toddlers, even those who walk well on their own, will have a difficult time in the water as they tend to be top-heavy. If a young child falls into a pool of water, they often don’t have the strength or coordination to bring their head above the water.
Children should be supervised near any and all bodies of water and never allowed in without an adult accompanying them. This includes areas such as:
- Lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds, swimming holes
- Any pools (regardless if its a kiddie pool or an Olympic-sized one)
- Bathtubs, toilets, sinks, buckets, water bowls for pets
- Bird baths and standing water or puddles after a rainstorm
A child in or near the water must be supervised at all times. Take shifts with other trusted adults to ensure someone always has their focus where it should be. The child should remain within touching distance in case of an emergency.
Never leave them unattended when swimming at a public pool, and don’t rely solely on lifeguard supervision. If you exit the water, the child should too. Avoid distractions such as a cell phone when supervising.
Not Enough Support
Many believe that water wings, also called arm band floaties, are sufficient safety devices for young children to be independent in the water. However, water wings should not be used as swim safety devices. While they may keep a kid’s head above water when they jump in a pool, they also provide a false sense of security.
Water wings keep the child upright, which is not a natural pose for swimming, so it causes muscle fatigue quicker. It also teaches them improper swimming techniques and doesn’t strengthen their swimming skills. When teaching kids how to swim, use a kickboard or pool noodle.
Additionally, a life jacket is an essential and life-saving piece of equipment that every child should have near the water. There are different styles of life jackets that serve different purposes. Some are more buoyant than others, more suited for activities like boating, or designed especially to turn a person on their back and keep their head above the water.
No matter what life jacket type, you need to make sure it fits properly, that it’s suitable for your water-based activities, and that the wearer matches the weight & age requirements.
How to Test the Fit of a Life Jacket
Look at the tags or print on the jacket to learn the type, age limits, and weight ranges. A life jacket should be snug but not so tight that it’s hard to buckle or zip.
Have the wearer lift their arms above their head and gently tug on the shoulder straps. If you can pull it up next to their ears, it’s too big. If the buckle or zipper strain or come undone, the jacket is too small.
Lastly, make sure the range of motion isn’t obstructed. And just because a child is wearing a safety device like a life jacket, that doesn’t mean they can be unsupervised near a body of water. Remain within an arm’s reach.
Teaching Kids About Water Safety in Preschool
Preschool age, three to five, is the optimal time to learn about and teach water safety tips for kids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by age one, a child should begin learning basic swimming skills like getting into the water, surfacing, turning, moving through the water, and exiting.
While there’s no way to make a child completely drown-proof, swim and water-based survival lessons help protect against unfortunate accidents. Here are three methods for endorsing water safety and preparing your preschooler for swimming.
1. Bring Your Child to a Qualified Swim Instructor
A qualified swim instructor should have experience teaching young children and have up-to-date CPR and first aid training. In addition, organizations like the Red Cross offer certification programs requiring instructors to conduct/co-teach a certain amount of courses, complete an assessment, and retake courses if information is added or revised.
To make sure you’re comfortable with an instructor’s style, ask to watch one of the lessons to get a feel for it. Does the instructor give the kids one-on-one instruction? Is the class size large or small?
2. Make Small Steps
You don’t need to start out in a pool or any body of water to start teaching your preschooler about water safety. Introduce them to safety devices like a life jacket or equipment they may use in a swim case like a kickboard. If you’ll bring them to a public place to swim, explain their rules before setting out.
Some good ground rules are never swimming alone, staying near a lifeguard, and always entering the water feet first. Entering the shallow end head-first could have fatal consequences.
Another common rule is to wait at least thirty minutes between eating and swimming. This, however, is a long-standing myth. Pack a healthy snack to bring with you.
3. Avoid Natural Bodies of Water at First
Spending the day at the beach with the kids sounds like a pretty pleasant day. Unfortunately, natural bodies of water like oceans are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, even for strong adult swimmers. Rip currents are powerful changes in tide that can be difficult to identify and pull unsuspecting swimmers far out into the water at speeds as great as 8 feet per second.
In addition to oceans, you should think twice before swimming in water sources like rivers, ponds, or lakes. Harmful algae blooms, waste contamination, and bacteria make some natural water sources bad for kids as their immune systems are weaker. Any family medicine doctor can tell you about the dangers of waterborne pathogens, especially in susceptible children.
Drowning Is Preventable
Drowning claims lives the lives of children more than any other age group. Yet, this silent killer is preventable when you know the proper water safety tips. Ensure your child is never alone in the water, utilize swim lessons and safety devices, and work your way up to swimming in the ocean or rivers.
Fairbanks Family Wellness is dedicated to the safety and wellness of children. You can learn more about our practice and contact us here.