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Swimming Safety: Keeping Your Child’s Head Above Water

Posted 6/21/2016 by UHBlog

Every day about 10 people die from unintentional drowning and of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Ask us about life-saving tips to protect your child.

Swimming safety

Drowning is a leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4 years old, and for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for near-drowning injuries.

“Among the youngest children, drowning most often occurs in swimming pools or around the house,” says pediatric emergency medical specialist Jerri Rose, MD. “Even the small plastic kiddy pools pose a significant risk in this age group.”

According to Dr. Rose, the single most effective way to prevent drowning in small children is constant close supervision by an adult who knows how to swim. By “close,” she means the adult remains within an arm’s length of the child at all times.

“An adult should be watching children closely and constantly when they are in or around water and they need to avoid distractions, such as talking or texting on their phone, socializing or doing chores around the house or yard,” says Dr. Rose. “When it come to children swimming and adult supervision, siblings under 16 years of age are not a suitable substitute for adult supervision in this situation.”

While all children should learn to swim, don't be lulled into thinking it’s a substitute for adult supervision.

“Swim lessons don't 'drown-proof' children of any age – even children who have learned to swim,” she says. “Remember that having a responsible adult who can swim (and who is) within arm’s length of your child is the best way to prevent a pool-related tragedy.”

By age 4, most children are ready for swim lessons, she said. For children under age 4, you should weigh factors, such as their physical development and maturity level. Additionally, Dr. Rose cautions against thinking that water wings, inflatable floats and life jackets are substitutes for nearby adult supervision.

To avoid water-related injuries, Dr. Rose recommends that you follow these swimming safety tips:

  • Have a life ring with a rope attached near the pool at all times
  • Make sure the pool area is properly fenced on all sides, and that the fence is at least 54-inches high and climb-resistant
  • Latch all entrance gates to the pool – preferably with automatic closures – and that latches open away from the pool area
  • Empty small plastic pools when not in use
  • Remove the entry ladder to above-ground pools, placing it well away from the pool when not in use
  • Keep a phone nearby at all times with emergency numbers programmed in or handy
  • Use only a U.S. Coast Guard-approved floatation device or life jacket rated for the weight of the child
  • Make sure pool covers cover the entire pool with no room underneath them where a child could slip beneath them. Also, remove any standing water on the cover.

Other safety suggestions include:

  • Taking a CPR class so you know how to resuscitate your child until emergency responders arrive
  • Signing your child up for age-appropriate water safety classes that are offered through Rainbow Safety Squad

Jerri Rose, MD is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Rose or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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