How to Protect Toddlers and Preschoolers From Drowning

Even if they’ve conquered a year or two of swim lessons, children ages 2 to 6 should still be closely supervised in and around water. Sarah Lazarus, DO, pediatric emergency department physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, recommends staying within arm’s reach of a child unless he can swim 2 lengths of the pool (50 meters) without stopping. In that case, staying within eye’s reach is OK, she says. “I tell parents to never let their guard down because it’s easy to develop a false sense of security around water. Even if you are at a pool with lifeguards on duty, or if your family gets out of the pool to eat, keep your little one within arm’s reach or eye’s reach. No one can protect your child like you can.”

The same precautions that cover babies and toddlers apply to preschoolers and young children. Remember, drowning often happens quickly and silently—in the time it takes to answer a text or go grab a towel. Seconds count in preventing death or disability.

Other water safety rules

For safe splashing, follow these tips.

At bath time:

  • Keep a hand on younger children at all times.
  • Have all your bath supplies ready and within easy reach before turning on the water.
  • Remove all bath toys after the bath is over so your child isn’t tempted to climb back into the tub.
  • Keep toilet seats down and bathroom doors closed when not in use.

At the pool:

  • Keep all small children within arm’s reach.
  • As a general rule of thumb, children should always wear U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets when near or in the pool. They won’t need a life jacket if they can safely swim 50 meters and continue to stay within eye’s reach.
  • Parents and caregivers should remove all potential distractions, especially cell phones. Keep your phone nearby for emergencies only.
  • Caretakers should not use alcohol or other substances during swim time.
  • Until your child can confidently swim 50 meters, Dr. Lazarus generally recommends no more than one child per adult in or near the water. If multiple young kids are in the pool, designate other adults or responsible teens as “water watchers.”
  • After using a baby pool, empty it out and turn it upside-down. The same applies to any other container of standing water.
  • Remove all toys from the pool. You don’t want your little one to go after a toy that was left behind.
  • Secure your own pool on all four sides with a 4-foot-high, self-latching fence.

At the beach:

  • Undertows are always a concern in the ocean. While in the water, even children at this age who are good swimmers should remain within arm’s reach of a responsible adult.
  • Children should not go in water deeper than their waist.
  • Children should always wear U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets when near or in the water. Strong swimmers don’t always need a lifejacket, but should still be aware of undertows and continue to stay within eye’s reach.

What is non-fatal drowning?

According to Dr. Lazarus, non-fatal drowning (formerly known as near drowning) is any kind of submersion that causes a child to choke, gasp or vomit. The child may need oxygen, rescue breaths or CPR—and there can be brain damage or respiratory issues. “This type of injury is so significant that even if it’s not fatal, it’s still considered a drowning,” she says. Children who experience non-fatal drowning need medical help as soon as possible.

If your child has been submerged, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1. And consider enrolling in CPR so you’re equipped with the skills that can save a life.

Swim Lessons for Adults

Remember, no one can protect your child like you can. It’s never too late for parents to learn how to swim. Schedule swim lessons today.

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