Every summer the headlines shock and sadden us as we read of children drowning in their own backyards, at the local pool or lake. Kids are naturally drawn to something so pretty and inviting as a body of water, so as parents we must be vigilant about water safety for our children.
One vital thing on your parent “To Do” list is signing your child up for swim lessons. Most cities and towns offer low cost swim lessons for kids at the local municipal swimming center. It is even possible to attend “Mommy & Me” swim classes while your child is less than two years old. These baby swim classes do not teach the child to swim, but they help both mom and child conquer the fear of water and eliminate the tendency to panic if they fall in a swimming pool or lake. When taught to relax, many babies can float and keep their head up until rescued by a near by adult in an emergency.
For true swimming lessons the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting until 5 or 6 years of age so that the child is ready to learn the skills that will stay with her all her life. But we must never assume any child is “drown proof”, there really is no such thing. Adult supervision is crucial at all times when it comes to kids and water. The AAP recommends practicing “touch supervision”, which means that an adult is within arms reach at all times. (For kids age 6 and under.)
The number one water safety rule is to put up a strong fence around a backyard pool area. It should be at least 4 feet high around all 4 sides of the pool. Chain link is not recommended because they are easy for a curious child to climb. Of course you will want to place the gate latch high above the child’s reach also.
A rigid pool cover is good but not enough, it should be in addition to the surrounding fence. This is called “layering”, you want to make it difficult for a kid to get to the water, and so you are creating layers of barriers to slow them down. Remove brightly colored water toys from the pool after swimming so they do not entice a little one to reach for them or find a way to get them.
Keeping a cell phone close at pool time can save a life. But the parent’s main job is to keep the eyes open and on the kids at all times. Many home drownings happened while the parent stepped away for less than 5 minutes.
You do not want to instill fear in your children as they play in water, but you do want them to respect the danger and be aware of others around them. The local city pool may have well qualified lifeguards but your child’s safety is up to you as the mom or dad.