8 Water Safety Tips for Kids

Swimming pool safety rules parents should know

A little girl cools off in her family's swimming pool during a hot summer day.

Swimming pool safety rules parents should know

When the weather gets hot, it’s nice to have a swimming pool in the backyard where the kids can play and cool off. 


With proper preparation, pools can be both fun and very safe. Without it, accidents can happen in a matter of seconds. Every year there are about 4,000 fatal drownings and 8,000 nonfatal drownings in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 


Young children are most at risk of drowning. It is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4, with most accidents occurring in swimming pools, according to the CDC. For children ages 5 to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury, following motor vehicle accidents. 


Drowning can occur quickly and quietly anywhere there is water – pools, lakes, rivers or oceans – particularly if children are unsupervised. 


“Young children are curious and like to explore, which is why it is so important to keep a close eye on them when they’re in or near water, and to never leave them alone or unsupervised,” says Robert Coles, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad. “Just as important is to know what to do in case of an accident.” 


Follow these simple tips for water safety:

1. Never leave children alone in or near the pool for any reason 

Constant, focused adult supervision helps keep children safe around water. This means avoiding distractions, such as reading, using your phone and consuming alcohol or drugs, which could divert your attention from a child in or near a pool. 


 “You want to make sure they’re staying safe,” Dr. Coles says. “Drowning can happen fast.” 

2. Make sure everyone has basic swimming and water safety skills 

Teaching your children to swim can help reduce the risk of drowning. Many children can start swim lessons as early as age 1, but remember, these lessons do not replace the need for constant supervision when they are in the pool. 


“Even if they’ve had swim lessons, they still need to be closely supervised when they are in or around water,” Dr. Coles says. 

3. Keep your pool fenced

Pool fencing is widely recommended to help prevent drownings. Most young children who drown in pools wander out of the house and fall into a pool that was not fenced off from the house. 


Fences should be at least 4 feet high without anything that the child could use to climb over the fence. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out a child’s reach. Slat space should be small enough to prevent a child to squeeze through the fence. 


A pool safety cover adds protection but should not be used in place of fencing between the house and the pool. Remove all toys from the pool area to prevent them from attracting children when the pool is not in use. 


Drowning can happen silently. Swimming pool alarms can detect water disturbances and alert you when someone has fallen into the pool, attracting immediate attention. 

4. Go over pool rules 

Go over the rules for how and when to use the pool with your children and review them again whenever there are guests using the pool. The basic pool rules are: 

  • No diving headfirst into the shallow sections of the pool 
  • No swimming alone 
  • No running, pushing or shoving 

Post these rules near the pool and enforce them. 

5. Designate a lifeguard 

If you have a pool party, make sure a responsible adult is actively watching children in or near the water. Consider using a badge or a label to clearly identify them as a water watcher or designated lifeguard. Adult supervisors should not be engaged in activities that would distract their attention. 

6. Don’t rely on floaties for water safety 

When near or around water, such as at a home with a pool, make sure your child wears a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Do not rely on floaties or other air-filled swimming aids. They are not safety devices. 

Children should always wear life jackets during activities in and around natural or open waters, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans. About 40% of drowning deaths among children aged 5-14 occur in natural water, according to the CDC. 

7. Practice touch supervision 

Whenever children under 5 are in or around the pool, an adult should be within arm’s reach of the child, even if he or she knows how to swim. This is known as touch supervision. 

8. Learn CPR

It’s important to know what to do in case of an emergency. Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills. CPR training courses are available through the American Red Cross, hospitals and community centers. 

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