After birth defects, drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4. Although falling into the pool is an important factor in childhood drownings, there are many other instances and situations where children are at risk. Being left alone in the bathtub, near a toilet or even a bucket of water poses significant risk for drowning for young children, even though they are not obvious bodies of water.
Without adult supervision, children can drown in less than two inches of water – meaning no amount of water is safe for children who don’t know how to swim. Children ages 1 year to 15 or 18 months have trouble stopping and recovering from falls. They can easily get into a cooler or kiddie pool and not be able to get out. Toddlers in particular are at risk for drowning because of their curiosity and their lack of fear! They don’t yet understand that water can be dangerous or how to respond if they get into trouble.
It’s worth noting that it doesn’t take as long for a child to drown as you might think. In addition to the danger of oxygen being cut off from the body’s systems and death, another cause for concern is water getting inside their body. If a child is rescued from drowning, water in the lungs can cause changes in lung tissue and breathing problems that might not show up right away. Here are a few ways you can protect your children from drowning – inside and outside the house.
1. Create layers of protection. It’s important to think about layers of protection in between your child and their access to water. Creating a secure border around your pool, such as a fence on all four sides is a must. A gate that swings out instead of in, locked gates and pool alarms are also necessary precautions.
2. Clean up your mess. When you’ve been out by the pool, be sure to do a good job of cleaning up after swimming is over. Toddlers are known to look out the window and see the floats and toys and decide to go get them. It’s also important to empty all buckets, coolers with melted ice, or kiddie pools immediately after use because these can also be safety hazards.
3. Implement touch supervision. All kids who don’t know how to swim should essentially be within arm’s reach at all times – whether it’s in a pool or bathtub. This is called touch supervision. It’s also smart to assign an adult to be a ‘water watcher’ who has the responsibility for keeping up with kids in the pool. Switch off regularly with other adults and put down your phone – because it’s easy to get distracted when visiting with friends and family.
4. Be aware of your surroundings. When you visit a family member or friend’s home, take note of the potential hazards. Homes without safety gates or door covers are an opportunity for a young child to slip outside unnoticed.
5. Be vigilant. Any time you’re near a lake or river, children should be in a life jacket that fits properly and is approved by the US Coast Guard. My best advice? Don’t ever stop watching your kids closely and thinking about water safety. Research also shows that swimming classes or water survival training programs can reduce drowning risk for kids between the ages of 1 and 4. Parents are the best judge of whether their children are developed enough to take part in one of these training classes. Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child is ready.
For more information about drowning prevention, visit healthychildren.org. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Dyer or another pediatrician at CHI Memorial Pediatric Diagnostic Associates, call (423) 698-BABY (2229). Same day and next day appointments are available.