Parents must make sure kids swim safely

Water safety tips

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Health & Fitness section on Monday, July 11, 2005)

By Dr. Kim Quayle

Never leave your child unsupervised near water at home, or around any body of water, including a swimming pool.

Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and infant and child first aid.

Do not rely on personal flotation devices or swimming lessons to protect your child.

Install childproof fencing around swimming pools.

Make sure you have rescue equipment, a telephone and emergency phone numbers near the swimming pool.

Insist that your child wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device on boats at all times.

Do not allow children to dive in water less than 8 feet deep.

Whether it’s a day at the pool or a weekend at the lake, summertime is swimming time. While enjoying the water can be part of the magic of summer for children, it’s important to use extreme caution.

Drowning accounts for more than 1,000 child deaths each year. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of injury-related death for children ages 1 to 4.

More than half of child drownings occur in residential pools, where it’s easy for a toddler to fall in and drown quickly.

All it takes is a split second. If you take your eyes off your child, that’s all the time he or she needs to find his way into the pool, and into trouble. The key is to supervise young children at the pool at all times.

Consider these facts concerning drowning from the National Safe Kids Campaign:

When a child is submerged in water for two minutes, he or she loses consciousness.

Irreversible brain damage sets in after four to six minutes of water submersion.

Most children die if they are found after 10 minutes in the water.

One-third of child drownings occur at the home of a friend or relative. One precaution to look for is whether the pool is separated from the back of the house by a fence and locked gate.

Ideally, a swimming pool should have fencing on all four sides. Some people only block off three sides, with the fourth side blocked off by the home itself. But this could allow the child to wander out of the house and directly into the pool. The pool should have a locked gate and have a fence that is not easy for a child to climb.

That same caution applies to hotel pools, where a lifeguard is usually not present.

Next to toddlers, teenagers are the second-highest risk group for drowning. Supervise teens around any body of water and forbid the use of alcohol, which is often a factor in drowning of teens and young adults.

Of course, many youngsters will be enrolling in swimming lessons this summer; 4 or 5 years of age is an appropriate time to start. But even with lessons, don’t assume your child is safe from drowning. Swimming lessons, while helpful, don’t completely safeguard children from drowning. It’s important to get children exposed to the water, to learn the safety rules around the water and then to really enjoy themselves.

Dr. Kim Quayle is a St. Louis Children’s Hospital emergency physician and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine.

Copyright 2005 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.