While summer brings plenty of opportunities for fun in the water, it is also high season for children drowning.
Tragically, drowning affects children of all ages. It is the No. 1 cause of death (after birth defects) for children ages 1 to 4, contributing to almost 1,000 deaths in children and teens ages 19 and younger in 2020.
But drowning is also one of the world’s most preventable issues. As you enjoy these final days of summer, here are some tips to help keep your children safe around water.
Attend Swim/Water Safety Lessons
It is critical that every child know how to swim and learn water safety. Start swimming lessons as soon as possible. Many swim schools have programs for parents and infants up through teens or older. Find these programs at local swim schools, recreation centers, park districts or summer camps. Another important tool is to get Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) instruction. This program gives children the ability to be “aquatic problem solvers,” teaching them safety and the ability to avoid or survive an aquatic accident. ISR is a program that can benefit children of all ages.
Surround swimming pools, whether in-ground or above-ground, on all four sides by a four-foot-tall fence that cannot be climbed with a self-latching lock that opens outward. Use safety gates or lock the door to the yard to prevent children from wandering out of the house unnoticed. If a child goes missing, always check areas of water first.
Wear Life Jackets
Lakes and rivers are a common site of teen drowning. Children and teens should always wear a life jacket and not rely on an inflatable raft or life preserver. In swimming pools, keep small children in a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket until they are old enough to swim on their own.
Floaties will not save a child from drowning. Popular flotation devices that put children in a vertical position in the water can inadvertently teach them to assume a position that makes drowning faster. Small children should always be within arms-length or held even with flotation devices. If an older child does not know how to swim well, they should also wear a life jacket when in or near water.
Children of all ages must be supervised when in or near water. Assign a “water watcher” and take turns with other adults to prevent fatigue. This person must pay constant attention to all children near or in the water. Water watchers should put down their cellphones, avoid other activities and supervise even if lifeguards are present. It is also beneficial to know CPR in case of emergency. For children unable to swim, assign an adult who is always at touch distance in the water with them and not easily distracted.
Dr. Liu is chair of the Department of Pediatrics at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. Connect with UM BWMC’s pediatric specialists by calling 410-553-8540 or visit www.umbwmc.org/pediatrics.
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