Playing in the water at a beach or pool can be great fun and great exercise, and should be part of every childhood. But the reality is that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death. What should parents know and do as they slide on those bathing suits and pack up the car?
1. Teach your child to swim.
All children should learn to swim. This is an important safety skill, and can help prevent drowning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents should consider swimming lessons for their children ages 1 to 4 years. Studies show that children of this age are less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming lessons.
The studies don't provide any evidence to show which types of lessons are best. The AAP does not recommend swimming lessons for children under a year.
Parents should decide about swimming lessons based on their child's:
Learn more about choosing a swim class for your child here.
2. Always supervise your child in the water.
Swimming lessons do not make supervision any less necessary; even an advanced swimmer can drown. The AAP recommends that parents:
3. Fence in the pool.
According to the AAP, a fence that completely surrounds a pool (isolating it from the house) can cut the drowning risk by half. To be really safe, a fence should:
Local building codes don't usually require fencing for inflatable pools. But many of them contain thousands of gallons of water and stay up for weeks at a time.
4. Learn CPR.
All parents should know CPR. Starting CPR immediately can mean the difference between life and death — and can prevent severe brain damage. To find a class near you, visit the website of the American Red Cross.
The AAP offers some other suggestions for parents to prevent drowning:
Claire McCarthy, M.D., is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Boston, and medical director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, a neighborhood health service of Children's Hospital. She is a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications.