Summer holds the promise of endless outdoor entertainment, and playing in the pool is a favorite for most kids. But this quintessential summer pastime isn’t all fun and games — the number of kids with unintentional injuries increases during the warmer months and an estimated 5,000 children are hospitalized due to unintentional drowning-related incidents each year. For this reason, it’s critical that the adult in charge be well-versed in pool safety. Use these guidelines to maximize the summer fun by minimizing the potential for pool-related accidents.
When swimming, sitters, parents and other caregivers must stay alert and vigilant at all times.
Stay close. As the adult in charge, you should never leave kids alone in the water. For younger children, it’s best to be in the pool with them. For kids who are older and have stronger swimming skills, make a habit of sitting at the edge of the pool when you’re not in the water so you can keep a close eye on the kids in your care.
Minimize distractions. Sitters and parents should avoid potential distractions, like texting or reading, while at the pool. Drowning can happen fast — in under two minutes — and actively supervising children will ensure that you’re able to react quickly should something go wrong.
Teach children to swim. Formal swimming lessons can help reduce the threat of drowning, especially for younger kids. Swim classes for all ages and stages are typically available year-round at local recreation centers, YMCAs, and private swim clubs. Talk to parents about investing in lessons.
Learn CPR. Parents, sitters and other caregivers should be certified in CPR. Administering CPR can save lives if drowning does occur. Check your local Red Cross or YMCA for certification courses (P.S. You can use the code SITCITY0515 to receive a 15% discount off of a Red Cross course). Download the Red Cross First Aid App to regularly refresh your skills.
Enclose home pools with proper fencing. For children under the age of 4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. If the child in your care lives in a home with a pool, make sure he cannot access the pool without an adult. The CDC recommends a four-sided isolation fence that separates the pool from the house as well as the rest of the yard.
Use lifejackets when appropriate. Though most often associated with open water, children can use personal floatation devices like life jackets in pools as well. However, a life jacket is not a substitute for adult supervision, and water toys like noodles, water wings and inflatable rafts do not prevent drowning.
Enforce pool safety rules. Whether you’re at a public pool or in a backyard, make sure kids are following general pool safety rules, like no running, no dunking or other roughhousing, and no diving in shallow water.
What about dry drowning?
According to WebMD, “With dry drowning, water never reaches the lungs. Instead, breathing in water causes your child’s vocal chords to spasm and close up after he’s already left the pool, ocean, or lake. That shuts off his airways, making it hard to breathe. Secondary drowning happens a little bit differently. Your child’s airways open up, letting water into his lungs where it builds up, causing a condition called pulmonary edema. The end result is the same: trouble breathing.”
Symptoms of dry drowning happen almost immediately, while secondary drowning can occur up to 24 hours later. Both are extremely rare, making up only 1-2 percent of all cases of drowning — but it’s worth seeking medical attention if you notice these signs after a child struggled in the pool or ingested a significant amount of pool water:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Extreme exhaustion
If a near-drowning experience occurs on your watch, don’t wait to see if the child exhibits these symptoms. Seek medical attention for the child immediately.
Recreational Water Illnesses
While it’s commonly assumed that the chlorine kills all germs in a pool, this is not the case and recreational water illnesses (RWI) have been on the rise in recent decades. RWIs spread when a child comes in contact with contaminated water in pools, lakes, hot tubs, water parks, and beaches. They can cause a variety of infections, diarrhea and other stomach issues — some serious, particularly to young children.
To avoid RWIs, keep these tips in mind:
- Prevent kids from going to the bathroom in the pool. Take bathroom breaks every 45 minutes to an hour.
- If a child has diarrhea, do not let them swim.
- If a young child is not potty trained, make sure she is wearing a proper-fitting swim diaper, and check regularly to make sure it is clean. Change diapers away from the pool area.
- Remind kids not to swallow pool water.
- Use pool test strips to check the chlorine and pH levels of the pool. According to the CDC, a proper free chlorine level of 1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm] and pH of 7.2–7.8 maximizes germ-killing. Pool test strips are available at most big box and hardware stores.
Sunburns, Dehydration and Heat-related Illnesses
Too much fun in the sun can lead to sunburns, heat exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration. Take steps to make sure the kids in your care avoid these common summertime ailments.
Apply (and reapply) sunscreen. For kids, choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 15-30. You can go higher, but experts typically believe that anything over 30 doesn’t offer much additional protection. You do want to make sure that the sunscreen provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection and is water-resistant, fragrance-free and hypo-allergenic. Apply sunscreen before you head to the pool and generously reapply it every 30 minutes.
Wear hats, sunglasses and coverups. Clothing offers protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Make sure kids have wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses. When out of the pool, have them wear coverups. You also can consider investing in swimwear that offers UV protection, like rash guards (also called swim shirts).
Avoid swimming midday. The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Avoiding the pool during these hours can reduce the chance of sunburns and heat-related illness.
Keep kids hydrated. Drinking plenty of water will help keep the body’s natural cooling system working. Bring plenty of water to the pool and make sure kids are taking regular hydration breaks.
Recognize the signs of heat-related illness. Keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion, including an increase in thirst, weakness, fainting or dizziness, cramping, nausea, headache, increased sweating, clammy skin or a rise in body temperature. Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke, which is far more serious. If a child shows signs of heat exhaustion, take him out of the sun immediately and into an air-conditioned space, remove excess clothing and hydrate. If the child’s symptoms include a severe headache, confusion, rapid breathing, loss of consciousness, a temperature over 105ºF, or flushed, hot, dry skin seek immediate medical care.
As a parent, sitter or caregiver, keeping kids safe at the pool will help prevent everything from common summer ailments to serious injuries and accidents. Make sure the kids in your care are aware of pool safety guidelines and acceptable behavior, and enforce these rules to maximize safe summer fun.