Summer Water Safety with Kids
by Alison Rhodes
As soon as the thermometer hits 70 degrees F, my kids are breaking out their bathing suits and grabbing their beach toys. Whether it's at a friend's pool or the local beach, summer days seem to fly by when we're all swimming together. Having lived in California most of our lives, my husband and I love the beach and wanted to instill a love of swimming in our children. But every year we seem to read another tragic story about a toddler or young child drowning in a swimming pool or at the beach. So, while I never want my kids to be fearful of the water, I want to be sure I'm providing a safe environment and teaching them how to safely have fun in the sun.
The highest priority in water safety is constant parental supervision. Drowning can occur in fewer than 5 minutes, the time it takes to answer the phone or check on another child. If you need to leave, assign another adult to watch your child. Never assume someone else is watching her! And if your child is missing, immediately check the pool - moments could mean the difference between safety and a tragedy. Keep a cordless phone with you at all times and a list of emergency numbers posted at the side of the pool. If you are at a pool party, establish a buddy system whereby each child is paired up with another. Every 5 to 10 minutes, yell, "Buddy check!" and the buddies need to find each other.
Many parents use flotation devices for their younger children who do not yet know how to swim or are not strong swimmers. This is not a good idea as it may give parents a false sense of security in regards to the child's safety and may also encourage children to venture into deeper water than they might normally feel comfortable doing. Do not assume, however, that if your child has had swim lessons she cannot drown.
When it comes to your pool, your toddler is not going to understand the inherent dangers. It is up to you to completely safeguard the pool. A fence should be installed completely around the perimeter. One that surrounds the entire deck or backyard is too large and not close enough to protect the pool. The fence should not have any footholds or handholds, and be sure there are no objects such as lawn chairs or riding toys around the fence that your child could use as leverage to climb over. If your house opens right onto the pool, the doors leading from the house to the pool should be protected with an alarm. A power safety cover should also be installed. Be sure this cover meets the requirements of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) pool cover standard that addresses labeling requirements and performance. If you have an above-ground pool, the steps and ladders leading to the pool should be secured and locked or removed when the pool is not in use. Make sure there are no toys near the pool that could entice your child to jump in.
Beaches can pose other issues for safety as well. Make sure you read any posted surf warnings and have children swim only in areas where lifeguards are on duty. Have your children wear water shoes to protect them from hot sand and sharp objects. Older kids who are swimming by themselves should understand the dangers of the undertow and what to do if they get caught in it (swim parallel to shore until you get past the affected area - don't try to swim against it!) Here again, set up the buddy system whenever possible.
Beware of jellyfish! If your child gets stung, rinse the affected body part with isopropyl alcohol, vinegar, or seawater, and scrape or shave the area gently to remove any remaining stingers. Do not rub the area or rinse with fresh water or tap water. Acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen will help ease pain, and antihistamines such as Benadryl can relieve itching and swelling. If symptoms are severe, or if signs of an anaphylactic reaction are present, seek medical help immediately.
Of course, always be sure to have your child wear sunscreen to avoid burning. While it may seem a lot to consider and easier just to stay away from beaches and pools, once you establish a safety routine, your summer days will be filled with fun in the surf and sand.