Water Safety for Small Children

Swimming and playing in water is a favorite summer activity for many small children. However, little ones often don’t realize how dangerous it can be and are too young to get themselves out of a dangerous situation on their own. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4, following birth defects. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to help keep your children safe around the water.

Many of us associate water safety with swimming or a pool visit, but 69% of drownings in children age 4 and under occur during non-swim times with the primary threat being unexpected, unsupervised access to water. Brief lapses in supervision are a normal part of everyday life, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends creating “layers” of protection. These “layers” include:

  • Completely fencing and securing swimming pools, including large, inflatable above-ground pools and other temporary pools
  • Removing or fencing other backyard water hazards, including bird baths, fountains, ponds, wells, & irrigation and drainage ditches
  • Installing safety gates, door locks, or doorknob covers to prevent children from going outside unnoticed
  • Emptying water containers like buckets, wading pools, and coolers with melted ice immediately after use
  • Using safety latches or doorknob covers to prevent unsupervised access to bathrooms; they also suggest installing latches or locks on toilet seat lids and using a removable bath tub drain plug that can be stored out of children’s reach after use

In and around water, the AAP emphasizes that close, constant supervision is necessary even when lifeguards are present. Avoid doing anything that would make it hard to stay focused while supervising, like using a cell phone, doing yard work, or drinking alcohol. Here are a few other tips to keep water time safe:

  • Use “touch supervision” in or near the water and stay within an arm’s length of your child, whether in a pool or bathtub
  • Assign a “water watcher” at parties near a pool or lake who will pay constant, undivided attention to children in the water; take turns with other responsible adults throughout the party
  • Children should wear properly fitted life jackets near lakes and rivers; those without strong swim skills should also wear life jackets at pools and water parks

The AAP recommends starting swim lessons as soon as your child is ready and that parents, caregivers, and older children learn CPR in case of emergency. If you have any questions or concerns about water safety, talk with your child’s doctor at their next wellness visit. We hope you enjoy a fun, safe summer with your children!