The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every day, about 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children under 15 and most are between 1 and 4.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy the water, it just means you need to take some safety precautions and stay vigilant, experts advise.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends swimming lessons for most children 4 and older because that is when they are developmentally ready to learn to swim. The academy once advised against swimming lessons before age 4, but has has relaxed that recommendation.
Why learn to swim? “Most children are around water in some form, whether it’s a pool, a river, a pond, a lake or the ocean, so learning to swim isn’t just for fun. It’s also important for safety,” says K.J. Hales, author of a book about children and swimming. “For some children, the idea of getting in the water and trying to swim can be a bit frightening,” Hales says.
The pediatricians' academy cautions that "swimming lessons will not provide 'drown-proofing' for children of any age" and notes that swimming lessons are just one part of a preventive strategy to keep children safe in or near the water.
The academy offers several water- and pool-safety tips for parents and caregivers, including:
- Never leave children alone or in or near the water, even for a moment. This includes bathtubs, pools, spas,wading pools, or near irrigation ditches or standing water.
- Less experienced swimmers and children under 5 should have an adult, preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR, within arm's reach of the child.
- Don't leave a child in or near the water under the care of another young child.
- Never swim alone. Always swim with a buddy, even at a public pool or a lifeguarded beach.
- Designate a "water watcher" when swimming.
- Because drowning can be quick and quiet, the water watcher should pay constant attention and be undistracted while supervising children, even if lifeguards are present.
Pool safety tips:
- If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool or spa first.
- Install a fence at least 4 feet high around all four sides of the pool.
- Make sure pool gates open out from the pool, and self-close and self-latch at a height children can't reach. Consider alarms on the gate, or underwater alarms as an added layer of protection.
- If the house serves as the fourth side of the pool fence, install an alarm on the exit door to the yard and pool. As an added protection, install window guards on windows facing the pool.
- Remember, some drowning victims have used pet doors to gain access to the pool.
- Keep rescue equipment, a shepherd's hook, a life preserver, a first aid kit and a portable telephone, near the pool. Choose rescue equipment made of fiberglass or other materials that do not conduct electricity.
- "Floaties" and other inflatable swimming aids are not substitutes for approved life jackets and often offer parents a false sense of security.
- Do not use a pool or spa if there are missing drain covers, since drains cause suction that can trap a swimmer under water. Replace old drains with anti-entrapment drain covers or other similar systems.
- Large, inflatable above-ground pools can be dangerous and need to be surrounded by an appropriate fence. Also, remove access ladders and any structures that provide easy access to the pool when not in use. Children have also fallen in these pools simply by leaning on them.
- Share safety instructions with family, friends and neighbors.