8 tips on how to keep your child safe

The weather has finally turned and the dog days of summer are finally upon us after a long winter and even longer pandemic!

The pool has been opened, the patio furniture put out and cleaned, a chilled cocktail in hand and steaks on the grill…c’est la vie!

But wait…where’s Timmy? The panic sets in until you realize he has gone in to get his water bottle….

Young children and pools are certainly a cause for concern however having clear rules and safeguards in place can reduce your stress and anxiety.

Here are 8 tips on how to keep your child safe.

1. Talk about it

As scary and upsetting as drowning is, it has to become part of the ongoing parenting conversation. “Parents talk about sleep schedules, car seats, and the best phone apps. Yet we don’t talk about the number-one thing that can snatch your child’s life in seconds,” Post stories on social media that show how drowning can devastate any family, at any time of year, at anytime of day. Share what you plan to do to help keep your kids safe. (We’ve got plenty of suggestions right here.)

If there’s a drowning or a nonfatal drowning in your community, talk about it with other parents, and use it as an opportunity to fight for better pool-safety regulations.

Equally important: Talk with your kids about all aspects of water safety. Nearly 70 percent of childhood drownings happen when kids aren’t swimming; they may wander over to a neighbor’s yard, slip through an unlocked back door during playtime, or tumble into a kiddie pool filled with rain water. “We should teach young children that water can be dangerous, just like cars,” says Tina Dessart, who oversees the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative, which focuses on the importance of learning to swim. “Tell them, ‘You don’t go in or near the water without a grown-up, just like you don’t cross the street without a grown-up. It is dangerous.’ You should regularly reinforce this message the way you do all other household rules.”

2. Insist on water watchers.

When everybody’s watching, nobody’s watching. That’s why safety organizations urge parents and caregivers to take turns being on official “water-watching duty” in group-swim situations. Don’t just give the idea lip service; you can be the one to get a rotation going. Wear a “water watcher tag” Keep one in your bag and pull it out when you’re meeting up with friends at the public pool or beach, even when there’s a lifeguard on duty. “Wearing it reminds me and everyone else that I’m on the job and they shouldn’t even be talking to me,”says Haderle, who started putting on a water-watcher lanyard after the pool-party incident last summer.

It’s also important to know what a child in distress looks like. Kids drown silently and quickly, often when they are vertical in the water with their head tipped back. Unlike what you see in movies, a child rarely splashes, flails his arms, or yells for help. Being a good water watcher is like being a good lifeguard: “You intervene when a kid may be even slightly in trouble so he doesn’t get to the point of drowning,” says Linda Quan, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

3. Put away your phone.

Lifeguards see it all the time. “Parents and caregivers show up at the pool, tell the kids to stay in the shallow end, and then go right on their phones, says Josh Rowland, aquatics product manager for the American Red Cross. At the very least, unwatched kids end up being babysat by lifeguards or other adults. But children can silently slip beneath the surface and drown in seconds—the time it takes to post on Instagram. You don’t need to leave your phone at home—in fact, you should keep it fully charged and within reach so you can call for help in case of an emergency. However, silence that sucker and stow it in your bag. Then push your friends to do the same. And if you absolutely, positively must send an urgent email or make a call, find a responsible adult to stand in while you step away.

4. Consider swim lessons to be a health-care priority.

Even if you don’t live close to water, your child will end up near it at some point, whether on vacation or at someone else’s home. Taking swimming lessons absolutely cannot “drown-proof” anyone, but according to a recent policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), swimming lessons maybe beneficial to children between the ages of 1 and 4. “The right time to start depends on an individual child’s emotional and physical readiness,”says Ben Hoffman, M.D., who is chair of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, the group that authored the statement. If you’re not sure what that means for your kid, ask her pediatrician for guidance. Then, when it’s time, get lessons on the calendar pronto. “The goal with very young children is to make them comfortable in the water so that when they are developmentally ready, they can learn and use skills that could be lifesaving,” says Stephen Langendorfer, Ph.D., professor emeritus of kinesiology at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio, and who sits on the scientific advisory council for the American Red Cross.

5. Be smart about pool services.

When opening your pool for the season, hire a certified professional to check that the pool’s safety cover is working properly, the electrical components are up to snuff, and the fencing is solid, with self-closing and self-latching gates functioning a they should, says Alan Korn, executive director of Abbey’s Hope Charitable Foundation, which works to prevent child drownings and encourage active supervision in and around water. Ask your service provider to check for and repair loose screws or rough edges that could catch bathing suits or hair and possibly trap swimmers. It’s also critical to check for displaced or absent drain covers. “An exposed pool drain can entrap a swimmer at the bottom of a pool or spa or literally suck the insides out of the body,” says Korn. If you come across any pool or spa with an exposed hole at the bottom, alert the owner and keep everyone out of the water.

6. Have your emergency plan in place.

Knowing even basic CPR and acting immediately—instead of waiting for emergency responders—can make the difference between life and death in drowning cases or anytime a person’s heart stops. Round up a group of parents and sign up for CPR classes together, or order a CPR party kit (gotothecprparty.org) to learn these skills at home. Buy an all-weather sign with CPR instructions to hang on the inside of your pool gate, and be sure to print your home’s address on it in permanent marker in case anyone needs to call an ambulance. Even if a child doesn’t need CPR after being submerged, having water in her lungs can still lead to serious trouble. “Watch for coughing, lethargy, and rapid breathing, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911.

7. Think beyond the in-ground pool.

A child can drown in less than 2 inches of water. Even the teensiest wading pool requires constant supervision and should be drained and placed well out of reach when it’s not being used. And as tempting as those large, inflatable pools look in the store, they often hold thousands of gallons of water that can’t easily be drained. In fact, they have become a particular threat: A study published in Pediatrics found that they are responsible for 11 percent of pool drownings among children under 5. If you do have one, surround it with a fence, cover it when not in use, and remove the steps or ladder once swim time is over.

8. Never rely on water wings, floaties, inner tubes or noodles.

These are pool toys.

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