Your guide to summer water safety for kids

Children lined up at the edge of an indoor pool.

While refreshing dips in pools, lakes and oceans promise endless fun and relief from the heat, they also bring a crucial aspect to the forefront: water safety. It's important to ensure little ones stay safe while they make a splash. So let's dive into some essential water safety recommendations that will help you and your family safely enjoy the summer around water.

Adult supervision

Adult supervision is extremely important for children when they are near water, whether it's a pool, bathtub, or natural bodies of water like lakes or rivers. Never leave children unattended, even for a moment. Teach children to stay within arm's reach of an adult when in or around water, especially younger children or those who are not strong swimmers.

Supervising adults must avoid any distraction, such as grilling or looking at cell phones. If distraction is unavoidable, the responsibility should be clearly handed off to another adult.

Swimming lessons

Signing kids up for swim lessons is a proactive step towards ensuring safety around water. These lessons are not just about learning to swim; they're about instilling a sense of security and self-assurance in your child, both in and around water. Encouraging your child to embrace these lessons not only enhances their water safety but also builds a lifelong love and respect for swimming.

"Seeking out programs that focus on a blend of swimming techniques and crucial water survival skills is key." says Hazel Guinto, MD, system chair of pediatrics at Main Line Health and medical director of pediatric emergency services at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Using the right gear

Life jackets are indispensable if you are out on a boat or near any body of water. Children should wear properly fitting life jackets when participating in water activities like boating, kayaking, or rafting.

Beyond life jackets, swim aids, like arm floaties or a swim vest, can be beneficial for kids who are in the process of learning to swim. While these aids can help your child feel more comfortable and supported in the water, it's critical to understand that they are not substitutes for life jackets or adult supervision.

Additionally, if you have a pool at home, investing in safety features such as having a fence on all sides with a self-latching gate, pool alarm and secure covers can further prevent unsupervised access to water. Equipping your children and your home with the appropriate safety gear acts as an essential layer of protection, creating a safer environment where your kids can learn, play and explore the joys of swimming with peace of mind.

Establish and enforce water safety rules

Setting up a framework of water safety rules with your family can be a fun and interactive way to emphasize the importance of being careful around water. Think of it as a game plan where everyone knows the plays — from the tiny tots to the teens.

Start by outlining simple, clear guidelines such as always walking, not running, when you're around the pool to prevent slips and falls. Emphasize the importance of never diving into shallow waters to avoid injuries, and the golden rule of never swimming alone, ensuring there's always a buddy or adult nearby. Make it clear that pool drains and filters are off-limits to prevent entrapments. Teach your kids to respect mother nature by not swimming during storms, when there is lightning or in rough weather conditions.

Educate children about natural water safety

Teaching our children about the unpredictable nature of natural bodies of water is essential for their safety. Unlike pools, natural waters such as creeks, lakes, rivers and oceans have varying conditions that can change swiftly.

"Start by highlighting the importance of swimming in designated areas, where lifeguards are more likely to be present and hazards are minimized," says Dr. Guinto.

It's also crucial to make them aware of weather patterns; a sunny day can quickly turn, affecting water conditions dramatically. Explain the significance of beach flags and signs, as these are vital cues for understanding when it's safe to swim and when it's best to stay on shore.

Discussing the dynamics of riptides is a must. These strong currents can catch even the most experienced swimmers off guard. Teach your kids the importance of remaining calm and the technique of swimming parallel to the shore to escape a riptide's grip. Encourage questions and conduct mock scenarios in a controlled environment to reinforce these lessons. By equipping them with this knowledge, you're not only fostering a respect for the majesty and power of natural waters but also arming them with the information they need to enjoy these beautiful environments safely.

Be prepared for emergencies

Having the right knowledge and skills to handle an unexpected situation can turn a potential disaster into a manageable emergency. Familiarizing yourself with CPR and basic water rescue techniques is an invaluable step towards water safety. These lifesaving skills can make all the difference during those critical moments while waiting for professional help to arrive.

Additionally, always have a fully charged phone within easy reach when spending time by the water. This ensures you can swiftly get in touch with emergency services if the need arises. It's equally important to teach your children how to seek assistance if they find themselves or someone else in distress. This includes recognizing signs of someone struggling in the water and understanding the importance of alerting an adult immediately.

Preparing for emergencies goes beyond knowing what to do; it's about creating a mindset of readiness and caution, ensuring that fun times by the water remain safe and joyous for everyone involved. By taking these proactive steps, you're equipping your family with the tools and knowledge they need to confidently handle any situation that may come their way.

Next steps:

Learn more about Hazel Guinto, MD
Learn more about pediatric care at Main Line Health
Making the most of vacations with young kids

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