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Summer or Winter, Keep Your Eyes on Your Kids around Water

June 08, 2012

Alex in poolIt’s a warm summer day and you’re at the beach with your kids. Your cell phone rings and you answer it, shifting your focus from your kids to the conversation. Good idea? Not at all, according to Safe Kids of Western Mass. headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital, and it could even be deadly. Children can get into trouble in seconds when around water, so Safe Kids recommends that parents actively supervise – with their eyes on their kids at all times -- when they are in or near the water.


Drowning is the second highest cause of unintentional death for children ages 1 to 4 and 10 to 14. Approximately 3 out of 4 pool submersion deaths and 3 out of 5 pool submersion injuries occur at a home pool. Overall, approximately 830 children ages 14 and under die each year due to unintentional drownings, and on average, there are an estimated 3,600 injuries to children after near-drowning incidents each year.


“Kids drown quickly and quietly,” said Mandi Summers, co-coordinator, Safe Kids of Western Mass., headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “A drowning child cannot cry or shout for help. The most important precaution for parents is active supervision. Simply being near your child is not necessarily supervising,” said Summers.


Even a near-drowning incident can have lifelong consequences. According to Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma and Emergency Surgical Services, Baystate Medical Center, kids who survive a near-drowning may have brain damage.


“Under normal swimming conditions you risk irreversible brain damage after four to six minutes under water,” said Gross.


Although 90 percent of parents say they supervise their children while swimming, many acknowledge they engage in other distracting activities at the same time - talking, eating, reading or caring for another child.


“A supervised child is in sight at all times with your undivided attention focused on the child,” said Summers. When there are children in or near the water, adults should take turns serving as the designated “water watcher,” paying undivided attention.


To help keep kids safe around water all year 'round, Safe Kids recommends the following precautions:


  • Always actively supervise children in and around water. Don’t leave, even for a moment. Stay where you can see, hear and reach kids in water. Avoid talking on the phone, preparing a meal, reading and other distractions.


  • If you have a pool or spa, or if your child visits a home that has a pool or spa, it should be surrounded on all four sides by a fence at least five feet high with gates that close and latch automatically. Studies estimate that this type of isolation fencing could prevent 50 percent to 90 percent of child drownings in residential pools.


  • A pool or spa should be equipped with an anti-entrapment drain cover and a safety vacuum release system to prevent children from being caught in the suction of the drain. The powerful suction forces can trap a child underwater or cause internal injuries.
  • Don’t leave toys in or near the pool, where they could attract unsupervised kids. For extra protection, consider a pool alarm and alarms on the doors, windows and gates leading to the pool.


  • Enroll your kids in swimming lessons around age 4, but don’t assume swimming lessons make your child immune to drowning. There is no substitute for active supervision.


  • Don’t rely on inflatable swimming toys such as “water wings” and noodles. If your child can’t swim, stay within an arm’s reach.


  • Learn infant and child CPR. In less than two hours, you can learn effective interventions that can give a fighting chance to a child whose breathing and heartbeat have stopped.


  • Keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency numbers by the pool or spa.


These guidelines apply to inflatable and portable pools, above and in-ground pools, hot tubs and spas. A child can drown in just an inch of water. Kiddie pools should be emptied and stored out of reach when not in use.


Safe Kids of Western Mass. headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital works to prevent accidental childhood injury, the leading killer of children 14 and under. It is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations dedicated to preventing accidental injury.