Water Safety Tips for Kids

Splish, splash and swim! But first, important tips to keep kids safe in the water this summer.

Runner-up to “are we there yet?” is “does the hotel have a pool?” when it comes to summer travel with kids. 

Water is a family favorite, but it should be respected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,000 children die due to accidental drowning and another 8,000 are injured every year. It’s sobering, but there are notes parents can take to help keep kids safe this summer and beyond. Robert McDonald, Foss Swim School training program manager, lifelong swimmer and former coach, shares his expertise. 

Lessons don’t equal “safety” 

Nothing is more valuable than swimming lessons in significantly reducing the risk of drowning. Still, McDonald says, for newer swimmers especially, all it may take is being splashed in the eye or realizing that the bottom is farther away than they thought “… for everything they’ve learned to get put on pause because they’re in fight or flight mode.” 

The situation matters

Your kiddo may look like an expert in the backyard pool, but a lake on a windy day is a different animal. If they’re used to a pool that slowly gets deeper, one that’s immediately 4-feet-deep can shake your swimmer. Also, their strength at the top of the day won’t be the same at 4 p.m. when they’ve been playing in the sun. McDonald says it’s important that parents stay diligent everywhere and prepare kids “to swim safely within the context of the environment that you’ve brought them to.” 

Floaties are for fun

Arm floaties are a fun way to help kids get comfortable in the water, but they aren’t meant to save lives. McDonald says if the goal is to prevent drowning, you want a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. And it should fit properly. “It should be really snug. When you grab the shoulder straps, you shouldn’t be able to lift it above their ears at all.”

Drowning isn’t like in the movies 

Accidental drownings are often missed because bystanders don’t always know what it looks like. “A lot of people have this misconception that drowning is this loud, boisterous event with a lot of splashing and screaming. In reality, it’s almost completely silent and happens instantly,” McDonald says. He says during distress, a person will often go vertical, tilt their head back in a natural attempt to yell for help, and water will spill over the chin and start to backfill their lungs. “Without any air in their lungs anymore, they’re no longer buoyant, and they’re under the water instantly with almost no sound.” Keep a lookout for kids (or anyone) who’ve gone vertical in the water, have hair in their faces and/or a glassy-eyed, panicked look.

Someone should always be watching

Most crucially, McDonald says someone should always be watching when kids are in the water. It’s not enough that people merely be present. He recommends swimming where a lifeguard is present or appointing a designated lookout, someone who is sober and charged only with watching the little ones. “We want to be able to check out and read a book at the pool, (but) it really is important that regardless of the situation, you always know where your kids are, you always have a line of sight on them.”


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