As it stands today, drowning is the primary cause of injury deaths in children ages one to four. This means that it has surpassed even car accidents in terms of risk, which is a pretty frightening thought. Since water is all around us, especially in a state like Arizona where pools are so prevalent, figuring out how to prevent drowning is a primary concern for many parents. And there’s a lot of talk about active supervision being the best defense against drowning, but some parents still aren’t sure what that means. Here’s what you need to know about swimming supervision and drowning prevention so you can keep your kids safe.
What is Active Supervision?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that parents of children under five years old (or those who are older but lack swim skills) need to be within arm’s length of their kids. This is commonly called “touch supervision.” This is an important distinction, because it clearly defines the parameters of proper supervision. All too often, well-meaning parents get distracted in the pool or at the beach, and end up further than arm’s length away from their little ones. If a child slips under the water or begins to drown, there is likely to be no sound associated with it. So a parent whose eyes are not actively on the child, and whose arms are not within touching distance, may not realize what’s happening until it’s too late.
In addition to being within arm’s reach of your infant or toddler (or older child, if maturity level and swimming prowess are lacking), you also need to be watching them. Some common sources of distractions are cell phones, conversations with other adults, and “quick” tasks like running inside to grab a drink of water or to use the bathroom. In order to fully supervise your kids, be proactive about avoiding these distractions. If you want your phone nearby to take pictures, snap a few and then put it out of reach. If you think you might become absorbed in a conversation, make sure one hand is actually on your child so you can feel and see them right there at all times. And if you need to leave the premises for any reason, clearly designate another adult to be in charge while you’re away. All of these steps will go a long way in keeping your children safe.
When Can My Child Swim Alone?
When it comes to swimming supervision, it’s very common for parents to wonder when their child will be old enough to swim without supervision at all. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. For one, no person should ever swim completely on their own – no matter their age or swimming proficiency. Accidents can happen to anyone at any time, and there should always be someone else with you if you’re in water. Even more so, older kids and teenagers should have a competent “buddy” with them at all times. But at what age is sending your kid to the pool or beach with a buddy acceptable and safe? It depends on your child’s maturity level and mastery of swimming skills, as well as the depth and conditions of the water they’ll be around. Ultimately, you never want to have any regrets, and there is no such thing as being too safe. As long as it’s possible, it’s a good idea to accompany your kids near water.
Finally, touch supervision as recommended by the AAP is the best practice for keeping your young ones safe. But the more layers of protection you can have, the better. This includes pool fences, self-latching gates, alarms on any doors that open to the outside, designating “water watchers” at parties and making sure parents and caregivers are certified in CPR. As Amy Frias, community educator at Children’s Hospital of Orange County and Safe Kids Orange County coordinator, so succinctly put it: “The more layers you have in place, the more time you have. These incidents often occur not because of a lack of supervision, but because of a lapse in supervision.”
You owe it to yourself and your kids to have as many layers of protection in place as possible, and to be the best source of protection yourself – through active supervision.