Making a Splash! Tips on Keeping Everyone Safe in the Water

by Bonnie Lovette, RN, MS, PNP

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowning is the leading cause of injury death for children 1 to 4 years of age and the second-leading cause of death for children 1 to 14. While most drownings occur in residential swimming pools, very young children can also drown in bathtubs, buckets or toilets. Non-fatal drownings can lead to brain damage resulting in long-term disabilities.

While the statistics are alarming, your family can have a fun, safe summer if you make water safety a priority.

The most important water-safety skill you can learn as a mother, father or other caretaker is active supervision. Children playing in or near the water need to have an adult constantly supervising them with no distractions — that includes reading, playing cards, or talking and texting on the cell phone.

Water Watch
There are three parts to active supervision of young children: attention, continuity and closeness. It is impossible to observe your child 24 hours a day, but you must learn to use active supervision any time the risk of injury to your child is high.

ATTENTION means focusing on your child and on nothing else. Anything that takes your attention away increases your child’s risk of injury. A common distraction is taking a telephone call.

CONTINUITY means watching your child constantly. For example, do not leave your child outside in the wading pool or swimming pool to go inside your home to grab a towel, or to use the restroom.

CLOSENESS means staying close enough to actually touch your child. If you are out of arm’s reach, your ability to prevent injury goes down significantly. Remember:

• Active supervision means watching your child in a way that allows you to prevent injuries from happening.
• Active supervision is especially important when there is high risk around water.
• You and other parents should take active supervision turns when at pool parties.
• Other children can never substitute for adult supervision!

Pool Rules
Children should never have physical access to the pool without a barrier to deter them. In California, two barriers will soon be required by law. Surround your home swimming pool with a four-sided, isolation pool fence that is at least four-to-five feet tall and has a self-closing and self-latching entry. The gate should separate the pool from the house and any yard play areas. There should be a pool cover and a pool alarm. The key to keeping your child safe is to have several layers of protection. All parents with pools should learn CPR. If your child is at least four years old, you should enroll him in swimming lessons, but know that just because your child takes classes doesn’t mean he can swim safely without supervision. Children younger than four years of age can’t swim alone safely, even if they have taken swim lessons.

In Your Own Backyard
Empty buckets after mopping, or washing your car, and empty and turn over wading pools. A child can drown in one inch of water.

Bath Basic
Tub rings or bath seats give a false sense of security about leaving a baby alone in the tub. Older designs with suction cups and larger leg holes can tip over or allow a baby to slide underwater, even with a parent close by. Bathtub rings, often considered safety rings, are not safe. Never leave your baby alone in the tub — even for a second!

Out to Sea
Always have your child swim with a buddy and wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket in a boat as well as in the water. You should also learn about local weather and water conditions in open bodies of water before allowing your children to swim in those areas. Explain to your children that strong currents can carry even expert swimmers out far from the beach or shore.

Swimmer’s Ear
When your child is in the water a lot, she has more of a chance of developing swimmer’s ear, an infection of the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is an outer-ear infection of the skin lining the ear canal, called otitis externa. Swimmer’s ear is usually treated easily, but early treatment is important. Generally, the first symptoms are itching in the ear canal, slight redness of the skin, mild pain and feeling “fullness” or drainage from the ear. Swimmer’s ear often causes ear pain when the ear is touched or when your child puts her head on a pillow. It is essential that you contact your health care provider if you believe your child has swimmer’s ear. Don’t hesitate if she has developed a fever or is in pain.

Bonnie Lovette, RN, MS, PNP, is the Injury Prevention Coordinator in Trauma Services at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland