On sizzling summer days, nothing is more refreshing than going swimming. As temperatures rise, pools, lakes, and beaches become hotspots for families looking for relief from the heat. However, kids are exposed to many serious risks when they spend time around water. Safe Kids USA says that between May and August, drowning deaths among children increase 89 percent over the rest of the year. So before you head out with your towels and sunscreen, make sure you take precautions to ensure your water fun is safe as well as relaxing.
Safety Tips for Water-time Fun
By Laura Childers
The most important rule is to always supervise kids around water. Don’t assume your children are free from risk if they have had swimming lessons. Infants, toddlers, and weak swimmers should always have an adult within arms reach. Remember to be vigilant—according to Safe Kids USA, a parent or caregiver claimed to be supervising the child in nearly 9 out of 10 child drowning related deaths.
Inner tubes, inflatable rafts and arm floatation devices are fun ways to stay on top of water and can help kids learn how to swim. However, they cannot prevent drowning. Purchase U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for your kids and make sure they wear them when on a lake, river or ocean. Check the size and weight recommendations on the labels. The life jacket should fit snugly and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through the neck opening.
Education is Key
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) says that children are ready for swimming lessons when they turn 4. Although it is best for children to learn how to swim at a young age, it is never too late. Check your local recreation center for classes, and invest in lessons taught by a qualified instructor.
You should also do a little learning yourself. Find out who has a pool in your neighborhood and if there are any creeks or retention ponds nearby. Ask neighbors who have pools to keep their gates locked. If your children like to swim frequently, consider becoming certified in CPR.
Universal Rules for Swimmers
• Never swim alone.
• Never chew gum or eat while swimming.
• Never swim in bad weather— especially lightning.
• Never swim in fast moving water.
When it comes to swimming pools, remember: your local pool has a list of pool rules for a reason—the combination of water and hard concrete can be dangerous. If you have a pool at home, create your own list of pool rules for your kids in order to prevent injuries.
At the Lake
When enjoying the breeze of the sparkling water of a lake, don’t forget that certain dangers may be lurking underneath the lake’s ripples. The bottoms of lakes are usually an assortment of weeds, grass, rocks and trash. Kids should wear aqua socks, water shoes or other footwear to protect feet from sharp objects, and should steer clear of underwater growth that could entangle an arm or leg. Also, avoid making quick judgments about the depth of water at a lake – lakes are often shallow near the bank and increase in depth sharply further out from the shore.
Swimmer’s ear is an inflammation or infection of the ear canal commonly caused by polluted or contaminated water remaining in the ear after swimming. Kids are more likely to get swimmer’s ear as their ear canals are smaller than adults. Although swimmer’s ear is usually not serious, it can cause discomfort including itching, redness and drainage. Swimmer’s ear can be treated with medically prescribed ear drops, but to avoid it altogether, take these preventive measures.
• Don’t swim in water with high bacterial levels.
• Keep your ears dry. Wipe your ear with a soft towel or cloth after swimming or tip your head to the side to drain water from your ear canal.
• Don’t swim after an ear infection or surgery.
Having a pool is a serious responsibility, and pool owners should take certain measures to prevent drowning accidents.
• Barriers: Install a fence or wall at least four feet high around your pool with a gate that is self-latching and out of a child’s reach. Also keep doors and windows leading to the pool locked.
• Drains: Drowning can occur by becoming entrapped in a pool’s drain or suction outlet. Purchase an anti-entrapment drain cover or a safety vacuum release system to shut down the pool pump should entrapment occur.
• Pool Toys: Clear toys or floatation devices immediately from the pool and deck after swimming. The presence of toys can attract young children back to the pool area unsupervised, causing them to lean over the pool and fall in.
At the Beach
Swimming in the ocean can be hazardous for anyone, but especially kids. Even if you are actively supervising your children, you should always find an area where there is a lifeguard on duty. Not only can lifeguards save people who are drowning, they can perform CPR, treat injuries such as jellyfish stings, and tell you how powerful the waves are. Beware of strong ocean currents and riptides – do not allow your child to swim during high tides or in areas that are not designated for swimming. Also, do not choose a place for them to swim that is next to a pier as water movements can cause collisions. Teach your kids these basic rules for swimming at the beach:
• Do not swim out too far.
• Do not turn your back to the waves. They will knock you over when you least expect it.
• If you are caught in a current, swim parallel to the shore.
Swimming and water sports are great ways for you and your kids to get exercise and enjoy time outdoors during the summer months. By taking a few preventive measures, you won’t have to worry about anything spoiling your family’s aquatic fun.
Laura Childers is a graduate of Covenant College with a degree in Music. She lives on Lookout Mountain and has written for Covenant’s newspaper, The Bagpipe. Laura is currently attending the World Journalism Institute held at The King’s College in New York City.