Top 10 Pool Safety Tips
Want to make kids happy? Say the word "pool" and watch them smile. But pools don't always make parents smile – in fact, they often make us worry and fret. And not without reason; statistics show that for children one to three years old, drowning ranks as the leading cause of death. Yikes! So how do you keep your kids safe, while still letting them enjoy one of the great pleasures of childhood: splashing and goofing off in a swimming pool? Here are 10 parent-tested tips for pool safety.
1. Assign lifeguard duties. One of the most common situations that leads to tragedy is the "But I thought you were watching her" scenario. Be clear about who's watching your child when, even setting up official shifts if necessary. If you and your husband or partner are together at the pool, it's still important that one person is tasked with keeping "eyes on the prize" at all times. Save important conversations with each other for later.
2. Avoid distractions. Put away the cell phone, and don't tempt yourself with a magazine if you're the one in charge. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 88 percent of young drowning victims were under some form of supervision at the time they drowned — and in a startling 46 percent of cases, the child who drowned was under the supervision of both parents. So stay close by — in the pool if necessary, depending on the age of your child – and don't let yourself look away, even for a minute.
3. Be joined at the hip with your child. If you need to leave the pool area, take your child with you. The leading cause of dangerous distraction during swim time is mom or dad leaving the pool area to answer the phone, use the bathroom, or fetch something, experts say. So if you suddenly realize you forgot the sunscreen or need an extra towel, insist that your child get out of the water and come with you while you take care of your errand.
5. Teach your child water safety as early as possible. If children have taken a swimming class that teaches basic survival skills like treading water and getting to the side of the pool, statistics show they're much less likely to drown, even if they do get into a dangerous situation.
6. Take toys out of the pool when not in use. Colorful styrofoam "noodles" and blow up toys look awfully tempting floating out there in the water, and all it takes for an accident to happen is for a child to lean an inch too far out over the water. So remove all toys from the pool when kids get out of the water and store them away from the pool's edge.
7. Check pool areas for safe fencing and gates. When you're staying in a hotel or other lodging, it's easy to put too much faith in the safety of the pool protection apparatus provided. Gates can be left open, locks can fail to latch, fences can be climbed if they're not high enough. Do a safety check of the area, and if it doesn't look childproof, then don't let your children go near the pool area without an adult.
8. Use flotation devices sparingly and only when you're with your child. According to safety experts, "floaties" such as armbands, vests, and rings give both parents and child a false sense of security, yet they aren't foolproof. Blow-up devices can pop, and Styrofoam or plastic devices can slip around or shift so they don't support your child properly. It's okay to use floaties if they're in addition to the safety of your arms, but never let a non-swimming child "swim" completely dependent on a flotation device.
9. Enforce safety rules. Those big blue signs posted by pools are there for a reason. Wet cement and tile can be very slippery, and even kids who are strong swimmers are in danger if they fall and hit their heads. Diving can also pose a danger; make sure kids know to dive only into deep water and enforce any posted "no diving" rules. From the very first time you take your kids to a swimming pool, be strict about safety rules and let them know the consequence of disobeying them: no swimming.
10. Safeguard home pools. If your house has a pool or your children use a neighbor's pool, make sure it's equipped with modern safeguards. Every pool should be surrounded by permanent, four-sided fencing that encloses the entire pool area. The fence should be at least four feet high and preferably six feet high, and gates should be self-closing and self-latching. Test gates and latches on any pool your kids use to make sure they're well maintained and work properly.
Melanie Haiken lives in San Rafael, Calif., with her two daughters, Linnea, 13, and Melia, 16, but travels whenever she gets the chance. She has written about many destinations for Family Travel in the United States and abroad, including San Francisco, New Orleans, Nashville, Costa Rica, the Bahamas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.