Growing up in south Alabama meant summertime pool parties and much anticipated trips to the lake and the beach. Since drowning is the leading cause of death for children one to four years of age, water safety awareness is critical for parents. For older children, water-related activities are the second most common cause of injury-related deaths. Children who survive near-drownings are at high risk for poor developmental outcomes and brain injuries. During the last two years while we were all in the coronavirus pandemic, many trips were suspended and swimming lessons postponed, which may put children at higher risk during the upcoming summer months.
Drowning occurs silently and quickly, and designating an adult caregiver to be a “water watcher” can help prevent these deaths. These caregivers should not be distracted by cell phones, and should switch out often with another designated caregiver for breaks. If a child is missing, look for them in the pool or lake first. Most drowning-related deaths occur between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., a time when caregivers are often distracted preparing meals. Children under the age of five who are near water should be supervised by a CPR-certified adult who knows how to swim. Floaties are often recommended but can give a false sense of safety and should not replace life jackets while boating.
Studies have shown that a separate fence which is at least four-feet high and covers all four sides of the pool may prevent drowning-related deaths by as much as 50%. This fence should have a self-closing gate. The fence should also be no more than 4 inches of the ground and have no more than 4 inches between vertical slats. Pool alarms and gates with a code may also be useful devices to prevent tragedy. Inflatable pools should be emptied after each use to best help prevent drowning. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over four years of age take swimming lessons.
At the lake, children should wear a properly fitted life jacket when on a boat or around water, and adults and adolescents should wear life vests as well to provide a good example. At the beach, ensure older children are aware of the dangers of rip currents and how to escape one. If caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until clear. Children should always have a swimming buddy and should stay in view of a lifeguard. Teenagers should be cautioned about the dangers of alcohol while swimming or operating a boat.
All the pediatricians at Dothan Pediatric Healthcare Network’s clinics are happy to speak with you in further detail about how best to protect your child this summer!