Swimming pools are a summer staple — and for good reason. A dip in the pool offers a refreshing way to cool off and stay physically active. In the midst of summertime play, though, you have to balance fun and safety. Keeping a level head and treating the water with respect is essential for swimmers of any age.
Water Safety for Babies and Toddlers
It’s never too early to set safe swimming guidelines. From the first time you introduce your baby to the water, safety should be your top priority.
Safety starts with vigilance. Around water of any depth, your baby or toddler should never be out of your sight or your reach. Don’t rely on flotation devices to keep your little one above water. For babies and small kids, your undivided attention will protect them better than a swim vest.
Drowning can happen at any age and to anyone, even good swimmers. But swimming pool drownings are most common among young children between the ages of 1 and 4.
Even baby pools can be a hazard. Make sure to empty the water of your wading pool after each use.
Since you can’t regularly empty a larger pool, you’ll need to install other safety measures. The most critical step is to surround your pool with a four-foot fence with a self-latching gate. This guideline applies not only to permanent in-ground and above-ground pools but also to temporary pools that are too big to dump after every dip.
Keep your pool gate locked at all times so your little one can’t slip past you and enter the pool area. Even if they aren’t swimming, toddlers should be wearing life jackets or an approved flotation device anytime they’re inside the fenced area.
Although a pool alarm is no substitute for a strong fence, it does offer another layer of protection. You can take additional precautions by installing alarms on all doors that lead outside, putting a locking cover on your pool, and removing steps and ladders when the pool isn’t in use.
Before ever bringing a baby around swimming pools, every parent should take a CPR class. And if you can’t find the time to take an official course with certification, check out videos online hosted by hospitals or other certified instructors. Knowing what to do — and, importantly, what not to do — in a crisis could come in handy.
Childhood Swim Skills
Swim lessons have the potential to reduce drowning deaths among kids by 88%. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children can start taking swim lessons around their first birthday. In fact, some swim schools start water safety classes as early as six months, just to get your kiddos used to the water. But by age 3 or 4, most preschoolers are ready for actual swim instructions from a certified teacher.
Keep in mind that normal swim lessons shouldn’t be a one-time affair. Continue to enroll your kids in classes throughout their childhood. The repeated lessons will help them become stronger swimmers as they learn and internalize water safety tips.
And don’t give up on swim lessons if it seems like your child just isn’t making progress. Look around for other options in your area, and remember that learning to swim can take longer for some kids.
Also, note that learning to swim isn’t a license for kids to be in the water without supervision. Constant observation in the pool is still essential, even for older kids who can swim.
If you’re prone to distraction, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to place eyes on each of your children at least once every minute while they’re in the pool. Even in swimming pools with lifeguards, your attention can make all the difference between a fun day and a terrible tragedy.
It’s important to know that drowning doesn’t usually happen the way you might picture it.
- Kids may not flail wildly or splash when drowning. Instead, they often slip quietly under the water without a sound.
- If you see someone under the water, count to five. If she doesn’t come back up in that time period, act immediately.
- Some kids (and adults) like to look at the water while floating face-down. But if you notice a face-down floater, check quickly to make sure he’s really just floating.
If your kids aren’t great swimmers or haven’t gotten the hang of it, invest in an approved swim vest or other flotation device that they can wear for added peace of mind.
Even kids who can swim well may appreciate a life vest at times. Always use flotation devices that are approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Check the label when you’re buying it to make sure it’s approved.
Inflatable rings or water wings don’t offer adequate protection.
Of course, keeping a close eye on your swimmers is still required, no matter how well they swim.
Teens in the Pool
Although most teenage drownings occur in natural bodies of water, there are still risks to swimming in a pool at this age.
Encourage teens to buddy up at the pool so that one is always looking out for the other. Even then, adult supervision is still critical.
Adolescents are still learning to make wise choices, after all. That means that a parent’s close presence can serve as a reminder not to make foolish decisions, such as engaging in rough horseplay or holding friends underwater in jest.
This is a good age to teach kids what to do if they spot someone going under:
- In most cases, teens should avoid jumping in after someone who’s drowning.
- Instead, they should offer a flotation device or a rescue pole if the person is still alert enough to reach for it and grab on.
- If the person isn’t responsive, teens should yell for help from a nearby adult or lifeguard. And for good measure, someone present should call 911.
Learning CPR is also a valuable skill for teenagers. Whether in or out of the pool, this knowledge could save another person’s life someday.
Safe Swimming at Any Age
Drowning risk doesn’t suddenly disappear in adulthood. Swimming pool safety remains a lifelong concern.
Our top tip? Always swim with a buddy. Emergencies happen, even for experienced swimmers. Having someone else in the pool with you means that you’ll be able to get help if something happens — drowning or otherwise.
If you’re not a confident swimmer, consider enrolling in an adult swim class to become more comfortable in the water. You’re never too old to learn water safety tips. Plus, if you have kids, you’ll want to know how to swim enough to keep your kids safe in the water, too.
And one more thing: alcohol and swimming pools don’t mix. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol may play a role in up to 70% of water-related deaths among teens and adults.
Save the drinks for after your swim.
Pools and Pandemics
Public health crises might warrant extra precautions when you’re swimming with others. Whether it’s a deadly novel coronavirus or an outbreak of something else, you’ll want to pay attention to any new guidelines when it comes to swim safety.
Our most important tip: stay home when you’re sick.
Even if you think it’s just allergies or a cold, consider the safety of others and avoid public swimming pools if you have symptoms like:
- Runny nose
- Cough or chest/throat pain
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
It’s much better to rest at home than to take your germs to the pool.
But if you’re not sick, then feel free to swim with confidence even during the current pandemic.
That’s because chlorine is generally effective at killing most bacteria and viruses in the water. Clean, properly treated swimming pool water isn’t believed to be a source of COVID-19 transmission.
That said, close proximity with other swimmers is still a big concern. Whether in the water or on the deck, it’s important to maintain distance from people outside your immediate family.
The CDC also recommends wearing a mask outside of the pool to mitigate risk. But you shouldn’t wear them in the water. Wet masks can hamper your ability to breathe.
Throughout your trip to the swimming pool:
- Wash your hands frequently;
- Avoid sharing toys and equipment; and
- Wipe down deck chairs and tables before you use them and after you’re finished.
There’s no way to eliminate all the risks of swimming. But with proper precautions and an eye on safety, swimming can be a fun summer pastime for the whole family. Treating the water and your fellow swimmers with respect will help you enjoy the pool without inviting disaster.