Keeping Children Safe at the Beach or Pool

Be sure you’re safe this summer by following these tips!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die by accidental drowning each day, two of them children under 14. And water safety experts, who mostly love the water, want to see children in the water, but they do worry. Dr. Taneja remembered the lead author, Dr. Brenner, who died last year, as passionate about the work. “She was a swimmer and she loved kids, and it was really important to her to be a part of the science and contribute to anything that could keep kids safer and having fun in the water.”

“People underestimate their risk and overestimate their ability,” Dr. Hoffman said. “A child will look at a swimming pool and not be able to comprehend the risk.”

“Swimming lessons are just part of being water competent,” Dr. Quan said. “Knowing about the water, knowing how to engage with the water, being able to swim, these are all pieces of water competency.” In fact, she said, ideally, swimming lessons for all children should have a focus on water safety beyond teaching strokes and form. In courses offered through the Red Cross or the YMCA, she said, children may be asked to practice swimming in their clothes, or putting on a life jacket and maneuvering in the water. “It’s not something you want to learn when you suddenly need it.”

Knowing about the water means understanding everything from the temperature to the possibility of underwater hazards. Learning to swim in a pool, Dr. Quan said, does not fully prepare you for ocean waves or currents, or really cold water. Her own children, she said, grew up on a lake and “could swim across the lake no problem.” Then she took them to Vietnam for a meeting on water safety, only to have another expert tell her, “Quan, your kids don’t know anything about surf and waves!”

Water competency is “a family affair,” Dr. Quan said. Parents heading to the beach need to think about how many children they’ll be supervising and whether there are enough adults to go around. Teach young children to ask permission before going in the water, but keep an eye on them when they are near the water, just in case they venture too close.

Families need to make sure that the lines of responsibility are clear, Dr. Quan said, because accidents can happen if “they think somebody is watching but they’re on their phone, or they’re reading.”

Although supervision is important, parents aren’t present all the time, so barriers and pool fences are essential to keep small children safe. Local ordinances and some state laws — and homeowners’ insurance policies — often require pool owners to have fences that limit access.

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