June 14, 2017. Lee County Parks and Recreation, Florida. Water Safety Instructor, Leila Horne, 17, teaches her students arm strokes during swim lessons as part of the Aquatics Centennial Campaign. Photo by Connie Harvey/American Red Cross

By Gordon Williams

The word from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) could hardly be more chilling. “Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death among children aged 1-4, and is a leading cause of death among teens,” says an AAP report titled Drowning Prevention.

The report does include many suggestions for keeping kids —from infants to teens — safe in the water. Those suggestions cover everything from safeguarding infants in the bath to setting water safety rules for older kids in pools and at beaches. There are more water stay-safe rules available from the American Red Cross, which offers an extensive array of learn-to-swim and water-safety classes.

LINK: Drowning is a leading cause of death for children. Together we can change that.

The critical first step in preventing drowning is to make sure everyone knows how to swim. Look for Red Cross learn-to-swim lessons, and related water safety classes in your area at redcross.org/take-a-class. It is never too early or too late to begin. The AAP report says that, “Some kids may be ready to start swim lessons after age 1.”

So, teaching everyone to swim is a good first step, but it is only a first step. Next, you want to make sure your kids follow water safety rules whenever and wherever they swim. And you want to make sure a home pool doesn’t pose a risk to kids — your kids or anyone else’s.

You danger-proof your home pool by making sure no one can sneak in when you are not around. “Children can climb out a window, crawl through a doggy door or exit an unattended door to get to the pool,” says the AAP report. The answer, according to the report, is that, “Every pool should have a fence that surrounds all four sides, especially the side that separates the house from the pool. The fence should be non-climbable, at least four feet high, and have a gate that is self-closing and self-latching.”

Every pool should have reaching or throwing equipment to be used if someone in the water needs help. Also keep a first aid kit at the pool and make sure your cell phone is close by just in case.

There are more rules to follow when your kids swim at a community pool or a beach.

First and most important is to swim only when there is a lifeguard present and where you know of any possible hazards such as riptides or underwater drop-offs. Use the buddy system where two swimmers watch out for one another, and no one swims alone. Among its water-safety tips, the Red Cross says the buddy rule applies, “whether you’re at home, at the beach, a public pool, a hotel or another favorite swimming spot.”

Children should be taught that they never go near the water without asking permission from an adult. The Red Cross recommends that young children and inexperienced swimmers wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket when they are in or near the water. When kids do violate water safety rules, the issue should be dealt with immediately — not put off until everyone is back home. Kids must know that water-safety rules are absolute — never to be violated.

One never-to-be ignored rule is for adults to maintain a constant watch on youngsters when they are in the water. “Assign a water watcher — an adult who will pay constant attention to children in the water,” says the AAP report.

“Put down the cell phone, avoid other activities, supervise even if there are lifeguards and switch off with another adult for breaks.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

Not all water-related childhood deaths involve swimming pools or lakes. An infant can die in just a few inches of water in a bath or an unattended wading pool. The AAP report offers water safety tips for new parents to make sure they don’t experience such a tragedy. Among the tips are:

  • Stay within arm’s reach whenever your baby is near water.
  • Never leave a child alone in a bathtub or in the care of another child, even for a moment.
  • Empty buckets, bathtubs, and wading pools after each use.
  • Install a latch or door knob cover on bathroom doors.
  • Install latches on toilets.

As ominous as the AAP report sounds, it does include this positive note about reducing the rate of childhood water deaths: “We can lower these rates if pediatricians, parents and policymakers work together to implement the types of solutions we know will keep children safe.”

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