Ditch the floaties: here’s how to keep your kids safe around water
July 14, 2022
by Lindsey Flannery
Time on the water is one of the sweet highlights of summer: swimming in the pool, floating on tubes or kayaking down the river, going boating with family and friends. However, for far too many people each year, especially young children, pool time ends in tragedy.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children ages 1-4 in the United States, and it’s the number two cause of death among children ages 1-14, after traffic accidents.1 It’s also fast and silent, occurring in as little as 30 seconds with no screaming or flailing. This is why safety and prevention are so important.
Surprisingly, a large majority of fatal drownings among young children occur when one or both parents are present, in backyard pools. While tragic and heartbreaking, these accidents serve as a reminder of the importance of safety in and around the water. With proper precautions, most of these incidents are preventable. Here’s how to keep your family safe.
- Ditch the floaties.
Many parents turn to the popular “puddle jumpers” or arm floaties to keep their kids safe in the water, but these devices are actually dangerous to use in swimming pools because they give kids a false sense of security. The main problem with floaties is that children who routinely use them for swimming will confidently return to the water without them.
Floatation devices hold young children up in an unnatural, vertical position that they cannot sustain without the device. If a child enters the water without the device and tries to hold themselves up vertically, thinking they can get air, they will sink. Or, a child will see an older friend or relative without the floatie and think they can take theirs off, too.
Reserve life vests for activities in natural bodies of water, like boating or beach days, and any activities around water. In the swimming pool, skip the floaties all together and hold your child in the water, because they can understand the difference between being held and being in the pool alone.
- Enroll your child in swimming lessons, starting as young as age six months.
Swimming is a vital, life-saving skill that children can learn very young. And when you introduce babies to the water young, they are much less likely to fear it. Survival-based swimming lessons for babies and young children teach them how to hold their breath underwater, and various life-saving techniques such as how to roll to their backs and keep themselves afloat in the event of entering the water accidentally. The earlier they learn, the more hard-wired those skills become.
Infant Swimming Resource and Survival Swim are two resources for lessons and information about teaching very young children skills they need to survive in case of accidentally entering the water. Any swimming lessons started young will help young children be comfortable in the water and begin to develop the skills they need to stay safe.
- Help your child get comfortable with the water at home.
In general, it’s a good idea to expose your children to water early and often. This will increase their skills and prevent them from developing fear of the water. It also helps if Mom and Dad are comfortable in the water. If you’re not, consider enrolling in lessons yourself.
You can also begin teaching survival skills at home in the bathtub. With cool water mimicking a pool, have children practice holding their breath and opening their eyes underwater, while face-down. You can also have them practice kicking their legs while floating on their backs, starting with just enough water in the tub to allow the back of their head to rest on the floor of the tub, with ears covered. Raise the water level as they become more comfortable. With time they’ll be able to translate these skills to any body of water.
No matter how happy a child is in the tub, however...
- Never leave your child unattended in the tub or pool, even for a second.
Toddlers can and do drown in as little as two inches of water. Empty kiddie pools and buckets after use, or anything that holds water. Keep bathroom doors securely closed or lock toilets if your toddler knows how to open the bathroom door.
Bathtime, when a child is happily playing, may seem like a great time to step away and get a quick chore done or have a moment to yourself. But there are too many sad stories where a parent briefly steps away, only to come back and find the child unresponsive. Again, drowning is fast and silent. There is no acceptable amount of time to leave a young child unattended.
At pool time, this means avoiding distractions. Many young children have drowned surrounded by friends and family who have no idea what’s happening. At gatherings, designate a “water watcher” -- an adult who is responsible for continuously watching the pool. Young children who can’t swim should be hands-on with an adult at all times. A child can drown in the amount of time it takes to check a text message.
- Implement layers of protection for your backyard pool.
Most child drownings happen in backyard pools or spas, often when the child gains access to the pool without an adult’s knowledge. There are multiple layers of safety for backyard pools and the more you implement, the safer your family and friends will be.
First, your pool should have four-sided fencing, meaning it’s separated not just from the rest of the neighborhood, but from the house as well. All gates should be self-latching. Next, have an alarm that alerts you to when a child leaves the house, or when someone enters the pool. All parents know that we can’t have our eyes on our children at every moment, and these alarms are an important layer of protection against children entering the pool without your knowledge.
Most importantly: always supervise your children in and around pools. If you’re at any location with a pool, you must supervise your child constantly, even (especially) if there are a lot of other people around. So many parents of children who drowned say, “I only looked away for a moment” or “I didn’t even realize he had left the house.”
- Learn CPR
Even with precautions, accidents happen. When someone drowns, CPR can save their life when administered quickly and correctly. Take time to get certified. You can do online certification through the American Red Cross, although an in-person class gives you the opportunity to practice on a training mannequin.
CPR for a drowning victim SHOULD include rescue breaths, because the person has been deprived of oxygen. Have someone call 911, check for breathing, and if the person is not breathing, start by giving two rescue breaths followed by 30 chest compressions. Repeat until emergency help arrives.2
Review these guidelines with everyone in your family, and make the rules clear. They’ll help you keep your family safe, and set your kids up for a lifetime of enjoyment and confidence in and around the water.