Child water safety: Safe swimming and water play tips
Safe swimming can be easy, if you follow a few basic rules. Here, some good guidelines for public and private pools, and lakes and oceans.
Water safety is very important for anyone, especially kids. With a little common sense, and a little ingenuity, water safety can be easy and fun.
First of all, make sure that any kids who cannot swim on their own (often times any kids under age five) are directly accompanied by an adult any time they are near the water. That means an adult needs to be in the water with them, holding them, or at least using an arm to steady them if they are still shaky on their feet. Always be within arm’s length of young children.
For these young children, some swimming places will allow you to use a life jacket. If you can, and the water’s at all deep or rocky (for example, at a nearby lake, where footing is likely to be uncertain for young kids), put a life jacket on your child. This will make sure that even if your child gets away from you, they will not sink. Also, make sure that children who are not potty-trained are wearing swim diapers (not regular diapers). They won’t puff up so much and weigh the child down in case anything should happen.
With children who are a little older and who have minimal swimming skills, keep a close eye on them. Still try to be within arm’s length; if you’re at a kiddie pool, sitting at the pool’s edge is okay. Make sure a lifeguard is on duty. Water wings are a good idea for kids who are “kind of” swimming. They give kids that extra boost that they need. Make sure that these kids are in shallow water (no more than 1.5 feet deep) so that it is not over their heads.
If you want to take them in the “big” pool, keep those water wings on, think about an miniature inner-tube type float for them to wear around their waist, and stay in the water with them. Never let them go in the deep water at all. If the water’s over your head, and the child slips out of their flotation devices, helping them is much more difficult than if the water weren’t over your head. Until children can swim decently on their own, they should stay entirely out of the deep end of the pool.
Once children can float on their front and back unassisted, and they have mastered at decent doggy-paddle, they can go in the shallow end alone. Make sure that you’re nearby (on the pool deck is fine). Don’t rely entirely on the lifeguards – yes, they’re there to protect your child, but there are usually a lot of people in the pool, and they can’t always see everything. Also, if you’re swimming in a private pool, it’s even more important to watch your children carefully. Never leave children unattended, even for a minute.
When children are able to tread water for a minute or so, and they have mastered the basics of the front crawl, they don’t need to be watched as closely. If there’s a lifeguard, it’s okay to take your eyes off them for a few minutes (but don’t simply drop them off at the pool and leave them alone until they’re at least pre-teens). If there’s not a lifeguard, still stick with them and keep your eye on them. Anything can happen in the water, especially if children are determined to try “daring stunts.”
Pre-teens or older, if they are good swimmers, can be allowed to go to public pools alone, and may be allowed to swim in backyard pools without direct parent supervision. Make sure that kids NEVER swim alone, and that an adult is within easy reach.
Never leave children of any age alone at a lake or pond. The water there can be too deep for them handle, and there often are no lifeguards. Don’t leave children alone on a beach, either, because the undertow can be dangerous. Don’t allow children (of any age) to go deeper than knee-deep if the undertow is strong. Check with your lifeguards on the beach for suggestions.
Set guidelines with your kids regarding diving boards and other potential risks: don’t let anyone who can’t swim well jump or dive off a diving board, or go in the deep end, no matter how old they are. No one is allowed to dive into water shallower than eight feet deep (or whatever a lifeguard deems safe). No one is allowed to do “flips” into the water, because the person can end up too close to the wall or diving board and hit their head. No one is allowed to swim alone. No one should ride on another’s back or shoulders while in the water (possible exception for strong swimmers or in the shallow end only). No one should run anywhere in the pool area. No one should wear anything but proper attire into the pool (heavy clothing or shoes can weigh down weak or inexperienced swimmers). If children are playing games like “Marco Polo,” which requires one person to close his or her eyes, the deep end must avoided (or roped off in a private pool, if possible).
Other rules may depend on the pool you’re at (if it’s public), or your discretion (if it’s private). Don’t allow children to swim at night without lights in the pool and on the pool deck, and direct adult supervision. Toys are often not permitted in public pools because they can get in others’ way. When selecting toys for private pools, choose ones specifically designed for pool use. Flotation devices are okay (such as floats, “noodles,” or other items) in private pools; public pools vary. Never allow children to use items as flotation devices if they are not approved as such (for example, various large sports balls).
Some children who swim fine on their own may find it quite difficult if they wear flippers or other equipment, because suddenly it is difficult for them to “touch bottom.” Make sure that these children don’t use (or possibly even own) flippers or whatever equipment causes trouble. In the event that several children are playing together, don’t allow them to goad a child into wearing this equipment; simply make it off-limits to all children.
If you follow these basic guidelines, water safety is easy and play can be thoroughly enjoyed!