Water safety cannot be written about too much. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children older than 1 in the United States. From 2000 to 2006, drowning was the second leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in children ages 2-19. In the 1- to 4-year-old age group, drowning causes nearly as many deaths as motor vehicle crashes. Drowning can be quick and quiet. Children do not necessarily splash around or call for help.

Children can climb out a window, through a doggy door or sneak out a door to get to the backyard pool. Door alarms might help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website healthychildren.org has some suggestions for water safety.


1. Touch supervision (be able to touch) is necessary for toddlers and constant eye contact for older children.

2. Never swim alone and never leave children alone near water — even for a moment.

3. Designate a “water watcher” when you are in, on or around water. No reading or other distracting activities. Even texting. No household chores. No alcohol.

4. Installing four-sided pool fencing with self-latching and self-closing gates is important. Fences should be at least 4 feet tall, and not chain link, as they are easy to climb or if used, make sure the diamond shape is not bigger than 1 3/4 inches.

5. Pool gates should be well-maintained, self-latching and self-closing. Latches should be 54 inches from the bottom of the gate.

6. Installing pool alarms helps.

7. Installing pool and spa drain covers is important.

8. Swim lessons are recommended for children 4 and older, perhaps for those older than 1. Children 1 and older may be at lower risk of drowning if they have some formal training, but such training is not “drown proofing” for a child at any age.

9. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation training is recommended.

10. All children riding in watercraft should use a personal flotation device and a life jacket.

11. Air-filled swim aids are not a personal flotation device.

12. Diving should be permitted only in water of known depth.

13. Children should be taught to swim in open bodies of water only when there are lifeguards.

14. Supervising older children with seizure disorders is especially important.

15. Alcohol and drug use should be prohibited during swimming and boating activities.

Your community pool is a good place to learn to swim. This should be a safe place for the entire family to learn to swim and exercise.

Remember large, inflatable above-ground pools may not be fenced and can be as dangerous as in-ground pools. It is recommended that blow-up pools be emptied after each use.

Remember the bathroom. Children have drowned in inches of water. Infants and young children should never be left alone in the bathtub even for a moment. Buckets of water should be emptied after use.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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