Keep Your Kids Swimming Safely

Simple recommendations to help keep your child safe while swimming at the pool, lake and beach

by Pam Nagata

With longer days, warmer weather and rising ocean temperatures, it won’t be long until San Diego’s beaches and pools are spilling over with kids. While summer fun should be enjoyable for the whole family, swimming can present risks — especially for young children.

By taking a few simple precautions, you can help ensure your kids are splashing and swimming safely.

Stay safe in the pool

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 300 children under the age of five drown in residential and community pools and spas each year, and thousands more require medical treatment for serious injuries.

These tragedies occur far more often in backyard swimming pools than at community or recreational centers.

  • The most important factor in preventing such incidents is constant adult supervision any time children are in or near a pool. In some cases, adults mistakenly think that someone else is watching a child playing in a pool, and doesn’t realize that the child needs help until it is too late.
  • Make it a point to assign an adult to “pool duty” any time there are children in the water, and make sure the designated adult is able to give the children his or her full attention; in other words, no talking on the phone, doing yard work or multitasking.
  • Keep lifesaving equipment by the pool, and always ensure a phone is easily within reach in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure children know where the deep end is and how far they can safely go in the pool and still touch bottom. If your children can’t swim well, stay within reach of them and be ready to help if they need it.
  • “Water wings” and other toys that help children stay afloat are fine to use, but never depend solely on them to keep children safe. Allow your kids to dive only in designated areas where the water is at least nine feet deep.
  • Pool and spa drains can pose the risk of entrapment if not properly installed or protected. Entrapment can occur when the powerful suction of a pool or spa drain keeps a child from escaping the drain, or when a child’s arm, leg, hair or clothing gets stuck in a faulty drain cover.

Water safety regulations at the pool

If the child cannot break free and get to the surface, drowning or serious injury can result. In 2008, Congress enacted the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act to prevent the tragic and hidden hazard of drain entrapments in pools and spas; under the law, all public pools and spas must have approved drain covers installed and, in some cases, must add a second drain.

However, don’t assume that every pool or spa is in compliance with the law.

  • Teach children to stay away from pool and spa drains, and tie up long hair and loose swimsuit ties to help prevent entanglement.
  • If you notice a loose or broken drain cover, notify the pool’s owner immediately.
  • When you’re not using the pool at home, make sure you take proper safety measures to keep children out of the area, including installing fencing, door and pool alarms, and automatic pool covers. California safety laws require fencing around residential swimming pools.

Open water safety

Children need to understand that swimming in a lake, ocean or other open water is much different than in a pool. Uneven surfaces, sudden drop-offs, waves, currents and sea life each pose their own risks. Allow children to swim only in designated swimming areas patrolled by lifeguards, and assign an adult to watch them as well.

Teach your child to swim

It’s a good idea to teach your child to swim as soon as he or she is ready. A number of swimming schools offer lessons for children as young as three months to teach them to be comfortable in the water.

  • In addition to learning to swim, knowing how to tread water and float can help a child feel more in control in the water, and enjoy it more as a result.
  • Look for a professional, certified swim school that caters to families with children. Instructors should assess each child’s ability and comfort level in order to develop an individualized program that the child will enjoy.
  • Taking lessons year-round can help children become strong, confident swimmers. And who knows, you might discover the next Michael Phelps.
  • It’s important to remember that no matter how well your child can swim or how well-supervised they are, accidents can happen. Learn infant and child CPR and keep a phone nearby.

This Scripps Health and Wellness information was provided by Pam Nagata, coordinator of The Parent Connection at Scripps Health, a parenting network serving San Diego County.