Young children are naturally drawn to water.
They're curious about the sound of flowing water and how light shimmers on its surface. They want to look at it more closely, touch it with their hands, and feel it splashing on their bodies.
Water play is fun for children, but it can also be deadly. Drowning is a leading cause of death in children under age 5. Young children can drown in as little as a few inches of water. Although we tend to supervise our children more closely on outings to the ocean or lake, we often let our guard down at home where children can drown in a swimming pool, spa, bathtub, toilet, and even a bucket of water. Children can drown silently…they can slip underwater and never have the chance to scream or splash. And they can drown quickly…in the time it takes to answer the phone, go to the bathroom, or run out to the mailbox.
Follow these measures to help keep your child safe around water:
- Bathtubs: When bathing your baby, stay within arm's reach at all times. Don't rely on a bath ring…they can slip and tip over. And don't rely on another young child to watch the baby in the bath…they can never be as responsible as an adult.
- Containers of water: Infants and toddlers can drown in toilets, 5-gallon buckets, ice coolers, and wading pools. When they lean forward to look in, they can fall in and be unable to get their head out. Don't leave your young child alone in the bathroom. Keep toilet covers down when not in use, and consider putting on toilet seat locks. Always keep the bathroom door closed, and consider putting a doorknob cover on the outside. Empty buckets, coolers, and wading pools after you use them, and store them upside down.
- Swimming pools and spas: Between 60-90% of drownings in children under age 5 occur in home swimming pools. Be within arm's reach of your child at all times when they're in or near pools and spas. Don't rely on flotation devices like inflatable rings, wings, or rafts…they can slip off or deflate. If you have a home swimming pool, install a four-sided fence to completely enclose the pool…this prevents a child from wandering out the back door of the house into the pool, and can cut the risk of drowning in half. The fence should be at least 4 feet high and have a self-closing and self-latching gate, with the latch above the child's reach. A rigid, latched pool or spa cover and an alarm are also helpful. Prepare for emergencies by having rescue equipment (shepherd's hook, safety ring, rope) and a telephone by the pool, and by posting emergency numbers and safety/CPR instructions. When you leave the pool area, remove the steps from above-ground pools, and remove pool toys and balls, tricycles, and wagons that children might try to retrieve when you're not looking.
- Ponds, lakes, rivers, and oceans: Waves, currents, undertows, plants, and underwater debris make swimming very unpredictable. Swim only in designated areas marked by signs or buoys. If you take your child boating, sailing, or canoeing, make sure everyone wears the proper life jacket. Children's life jackets must be the right size, fit snugly, and be fastened correctly with all the straps, belts, and clasps. Also, don't mix alcohol with swimming or boating.
- Swimming lessons: At age 4 or 5, most children are ready to begin swimming lessons. Lessons can help your child feel more comfortable and be safer around water, but they don't guarantee that your child is safe from drowning. Always make sure an adult supervises your child in and around water. And teach your child to swim with a buddy.
- CPR: In the event of a drowning emergency, the sooner CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is administered, the greater the chance of survival. Get CPR training and keep your skills updated through your local recreation department, adult education program, fire department, hospital, American Red Cross, or American Heart Association.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.