Whether it’s endless games of Marco Polo in the pool or jumping over waves at the beach, water is central to summer fun. Water safety requires vigilance. Children, in particular, are often completely unaware of the dangers that come with water activities. Even if they have had swimming lessons, young children can drown in only a few inches of water. Follow these tips from Palo Alto Medical Foundation Pediatrician LauraLe Dyner, M.D., to keep the entire family safe and healthy while enjoying the water this summer.
Keep your backyard pool safe at all times.
Make sure your pool is entirely surrounded with at least a 4-foot impenetrable fence that includes a self-closing and self-latching gate. The gate should always be in good working order and stay closed and locked at all times. Pool gates should open outwards from the pool.
Ensure your pool has a drain cover.
Keep your child out of spas and hot tubs as they are dangerous for young children who can easily overheat and drown in them.
Always keep a safety ring with a rope beside the pool.
Keep a phone close by with preprogrammed emergency numbers.
Learn and encourage other family members and your child’s caretakers to learn CPR.
Remove the pool cover before anyone enters the pool. Don’t use a cover in place of a safety fence.
Avoid distractions. Tempted to catch up on emails on your laptop or make a quick call on your cell phone while your children are in the pool? Wait until they are out of the water and pool area.
Share the rules, such as no running near the pool and no pushing others under water.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Pool Safely website at poolsafely.gov lists further pool safety information.
Everyone should learn how to swim.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is some evidence that children between the ages of 1 and 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming lessons. Even if your child has participated in swimming lessons, you should still always watch him or her. Keep your child within arm’s reach so you can catch hold of him or her if needed. Swimming lessons are available for adults as well as children. Adults who do not know how to swim should not supervise children near or in the water.
Don’t rely on inflatable swimming aids.
Inflatable swimming aids, mattresses and other similar items are just toys and should not be relied upon to keep a child or adult afloat. They can deflate at any time and leave you or your child stranded. Blow-up swimming aids should not be used in place of a life jacket.
Always wear life jackets when boating.
When on a boat, kayak or canoe, make sure everyone in your family wears a life jacket that fits properly. Adults should set a good example by always wearing life jackets. Life jackets for young children, especially those who can’t swim, should have a flotation collar. The collar will help keep your child’s head upright and his or her face out the water.
Respect the power of the ocean and rivers.
Teach your child that the ocean and other bodies of water such as rivers and lakes are very different than the water in a swimming pool. It is particularly important that they understand currents and variable depths of water. It is unsafe to dive if the depth of water is unknown. Visit beaches that have signs indicating they are swim safe, have lifeguards on duty and no rip tides. Don’t let your child swim in fast-moving water such as a river.
Remember sun safety.
Choose swimsuits with a built-in sun protection factor (SPF) that provide all-over coverage. Once out of the water, wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Liberally apply sunscreen with an SPF 30 to all exposed areas of the body. Reapply every two hours and after a dip in the water. Don’t forget to use lip balm with an SPF.
Babies under 6 months should avoid direct sun exposure.
Stay in the shade during the sun’s peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Make sure your child has plenty to drink. Children, in particular, are at a higher risk for dehydration and heat-related illnesses.
LauraLe Dyner, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Los Altos Center.