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Pool safety for kids
Q: My husband wants to buy a house with a swimming pool. I'm worried about the safety of our two young children. And even if we don't buy a house with a pool, I worry about them at friends' swimming pools. How can we keep our kids safe around pools?
A: Having a house with a swimming pool is part of the American dream for many families, and it can be fun and refreshing for children. However, every year hundreds of children drown and thousands of children suffer near drowning and disability in swimming pools. Unfortunately, drowning is a leading cause of death among children age 14 and under, especially in California and other western states.

Older children are more likely to drown in natural bodies of water, but children ages 1 to 4 are most likely to drown in a swimming pool, either at their own home or friends' or families' homes. Young children can drown quickly and silently. Most children who drowned were reported having being out of sight for five minutes or less, having wandered out the back door into the pool while their parents had their backs turned, were talking on the phone or napping.

It's important to talk with your husband about safety considerations for owning a pool, especially with children under age 5. Also, if you have family members and friends with pools, discuss safety with them.

Here's a summary of the key recommendations for swimming pool safety from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Safety features of the pool:
  • Make sure the pool has a fence at least 4 feet high around all four sides of the pool. The fence should completely separate the pool from the house and the play area of the yard, and children shouldn't be able to walk from the house or play yard into the pool. The only entrance to the pool should be through a self-closing, self-latching gate that swings outward from the pool, with the latch above the children's reach.
  • Consider using a rigid power safety cover that meets the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). This can add to the pool's safety but should not be used instead of the fence. Children have drowned under pool covers.
  • Keep rescue equipment (a shepherd's hook and life preserver) and a portable telephone by the pool.

Responsibilities of adult supervision:
  • Never leave your children in or near the pool alone, even for a moment. Always keep your eye on them. For children who are not capable swimmers, always stay within arm's reach.
  • Make sure that anyone supervising young children around a pool knows CPR and is able to rescue a child if needed.
  • Don't let your child use air-filled swimming aids, such as water wings or tubes. They're not a substitute for approved life vests and can be dangerous.
  • After the children finish swimming, remove all the toys from the pool so they aren't tempted to return for them, and secure the pool so they can't get back in.
  • Give your children swimming lessons when they're developmentally ready, usually after age 4. But don't let swim lessons give you a false sense of security that your children are completely safe around water. Infant and toddler swim programs haven't been shown to reduce the risk of drowning, so precautions must always be taken.

For more details about pool safety, visit the Consumer Products Safety Commission website,
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician