Published Friday, May 03, 2013
As summer approaches and the weather heats up, children are naturally drawn to water. Splashing and swimming can be great ways for kids to keep active in the warmer months. But keeping kids safe must remain a priority if you don't want your family to become part of some scary statistics.
Swimming can be a fun, relatively inexpensive and endless source of entertainment. During the hottest part of the summer, it can be hard for kids to be outdoors without some way to cool down.
But water has its dangerous side, too. Drowning is the leading cause of death among children between the age of 1 and 4 years in South Florida. And the danger does not disappear after the toddler years. Drowning is also a leading cause of death for school-age and older children as well.
A study by the Miami-Dade Health Department showed that drownings typically spike to their highest level of the year in the month of May.
"It happens so quickly, and it can happen to anybody," says Mariana Garcia, R.N., a clinical educator in the emergency department of Baptist Children's Hospital. "I think sometimes we get comfortable with water because it is all around us."
Even if you don't have your own backyard pool, your children are still at risk because South Florida has such a wide variety of water bodies â€” both natural and man-made. Pools pose a definite risk, but so do canals, ponds, the beach, small "kiddie" pools, and even buckets, says Peter Gorski, M.D., the Chief Health and Child Development Officer for The Children's Trust.
"The key is that there is no age at which you should trust your child to be in or near the water alone," Dr. Gorski says. "It's our responsibility to protect our children. Disaster can happen when you turn your attention away for even a minute."
The Children's Trust and other safety organizations offer these tips to keep kids safe and healthy around water all year long:
Establish rules. Teach children they should never go into any body of water without having an adult there to watch them. Begin reinforcing this lesson from a very young age, but don't relax even as children get older and develop swimming skills. "No one should ever go into the water alone," Dr. Gorski stresses.
Avoid unguarded swimming areas. Jumping into a canal may seem like a fun way to cool off to your little daredevil, but kids can quickly get into trouble with steep drop-offs, hidden obstacles, or tangled vegetation underwater. Explain your children why they are not allowed to swim in unguarded canals and ponds, even if their friends dare them to. When at the beach, select swimming areas that have lifeguards nearby.
Keep your guard up. Don't assume that inflatable and plastic pools are safe just because they are small. Children can drown in even a few inches of water. Always stay within arm's reach when children are playing in any kind of pool. Be sure to empty the pool and stow it away after each use.
Feet first. Children should never enter the water by diving in head-first because if the water is shallow this can cause serious head and neck injuries that may lead to paralysis â€” or worse. They should always go in feet-first to determine how deep the water is. The feet-first rule applies to backyard water games such as "slip-and-slide," as well.
Fence it off. If you have a backyard pool, install a fourâ€“sided isolation fence with selfâ€“closing and selfâ€“latching gates. This can help keep children away from the area when they aren't supposed to be swimming. If you are visiting friends or relatives who have a pool, make sure it has a barrier, or keep a very close eye on your children.
Be vigilant. There should always be an adult specifically designated to watch the children if they are playing in or near the water. Especially at family gatherings and parties, never assume someone else is keeping an eye on the kids. Others may assume the same thing, leaving the children unsupervised.
Put an adult in charge. Never leave a small child alone or in the care of another child while in the pool. The study by the Health Department found that about a third of child drownings occurred when the victim was left with another child. When a young child or inexperienced swimmer is in or around water, an adult should always be within arm's length. If you need to leave the water play area, even for a few seconds, take the children with you.
Pay attention. When watching children in the pool, you should not be involved in any other distracting activity such as socializing, reading, talking on the phone, texting, or doing outdoor chores. Even if there is a lifeguard nearby, watching your children should be your only task.
Be safe. Do not use air-filled or foam toys such as water wings, pool noodles or inner-tubes in place of supervision or life jackets. These are toys and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.
Learn CPR. In the time it might take for lifeguards or paramedics to arrive in an emergency, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone's life. Starting CPR immediately can help reduce the chance of brain damage, for example. Older children and teens should also be taught CPR, Dr. Gorski notes.
Sign up for swim lessons. Swimming lessons are available at public and community pools throughout Miami-Dade County in the summer. Lessons allow your children to start with basic skills and then move on to techniques that will make them stronger swimmers. The Miami-Dade Parks Foundation even has scholarships available. Lessons are available for tots to adults.
If your child needs to develop or improve swimming skills, you may want to consider a summer camp program that includes lessons.
Formal swimming lessons can help protect young children from drowning. However, even children who have had lessons need constant, careful adult supervision around the water.
"Lessons are OK, but kids can get into trouble even with instruction," Dr. Gorski says. "The edict that you should never take your eyes off your children around water is critical. You can never let your guard down."