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Jefferson Health

Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

Just Keep Swimming: Water Safety for Kids

Whether you’re vacationing or staying close to home, keep your kids safe and healthy this summer.

In the “dog days of summer,” it’s refreshing to spend a day at the pool. But there can be consequences to fun, warm-weather activities if you don’t take proper safety precautions for you and your children.

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children ages 1 to 4,” says Jinsy Jacob, MD, a pediatrician at Jefferson Health. “So taking proper safety precautions is essential to avoiding a trip to the emergency room.”

We spoke with Dr. Jacob to find out how to keep children safe around water this summer.

Pool Safety

If you have a pool at home, putting up a fence around it, is one of the most important steps you can take for your children’s safety. The fence, Dr. Jacob says, should be at least four feet high, with no openings underneath or slots between that exceed four inches. In addition, she recommends that the fence has a latching gate that stays closed at all times.

Even if you don’t have a pool at home, there’s still a drowning risk for young children in fountains or birdbaths. Dr. Jacob recommends holding off on adding those to your landscaping until your children are older.

Whether at home or away, paying attention to your children around the pool is essential to keeping them safe. “Drowning isn’t as dramatic as we see in the movies. There’s usually no one waving their hands around signaling for help—it can be very subtle,” says Dr. Jacob. “If you’re not paying attention, you can miss it.” Someone should always be assigned to watch children in the pool, especially at group gatherings and parties. Assign adults to 15-minute intervals of pool watch—a reasonable amount of time for them to not get distracted by their phone or other activities.

Beach Safety

If you’re visiting a beach, it’s equally as important to pay attention to children. “Make sure you’re directly supervising children around the ocean because waves can be very unpredictable,” says Dr. Jacob. “It’s a good idea to look up the tides and currents to stay aware of what’s going on around you.”

How to Swim Safely

Dr. Jacob advises parents to get children swimming lessons as soon as they’re old enough. But if your child doesn’t yet know how to swim, it may be a good idea to have them wear a lifejacket or other flotation device in the water. “While it’s a good backup safety precaution, a lifejacket isn’t a substitute for watching your children when they’re in the water,” says Dr. Jacob.

 Parents and guardians should also learn CPR in case of an emergency. “Every second counts, so if you see a child who might be drowning, you should get them out of the water, check to see if they’re breathing and, if they’re not, call 9-1-1 and give them CPR right away,” says Dr. Jacob.

Other Safety Tips

While drowning is the most common water injury, parents should also think about general summer safety when spending time by the pool or at the beach. “Have your children apply sunscreen often to protect against sunburn and skin cancer, and make sure they are staying hydrated,” says Dr. Jacob. She recommends having beverages nearby and scheduling group breaks to encourage kids to drink water without feeling left out of other activities. “Popsicles can also be a great way to stay hydrated, but water is still number one.”

Additionally, be sure to look out for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke if you’re spending a lot of time out in the sun. Signs of heat exhaustion in children include feeling dizzy, nauseous, and sometimes muscle cramping. With heat stroke, these symptoms may become more severe, the body temperature and heart rate will rise, and your child may even faint.

Summertime pool and beach days can be fun for the whole family, as long as you’re taking the proper safety precautions to keep everyone safe.

From the Experts