Be a Water Wise Parent

Editor's Note: Parents today are more aware than ever of all the dangers that could befall their children. While the most sensational of those threats claim their attention, the greatest risks lie in the routine activities of daily life. Our "Real Risks" briefs will help you focus on the ways in which kids are most likely to come into harm and what you can do to keep them safe.

At the height of summer, cooling off in a pool, at the beach or a lake may top your child's list of favorite activities. While most parents are aware of drowning risks, many don't know that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for kids ages 1 to 4, and the second leading cause for ages 1 to 14.

The stats don't lie, it's easy for a child to get into trouble around water. Here are some drowning prevention tips to keep in mind:


Bathtub drownings account for more than 10 percent of all childhood drownings, and more than half of those involving children under 1 year old. Most of these happen when an adult has left the tub area.

  • Don't rely on baby bath seats. Since 1983, 104 children have died and 162 have been involved in nonfatal incidents involving these seats, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a network of organizations working to prevent accidental childhood injury.

  • Kids can drown in as little as one inch of water - and a drowning can occur within seconds. Wading pools, bathtubs, buckets, diaper pails and toilets are all dangerous territory for young children. Either keep your kids away from these items or supervise them constantly.

Ages 1 to 4

More than half of drownings among kids ages 1 to 4 involve a swimming pool. Of these, more than half occur at the child's own home. Typically, the kids involved "were last seen in the home, had been missing for less than five minutes and were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning," according to Safe Kids. Home spas and hot tubs are also hazards, especially to children under 5.

  • Install four-sided, 5-feet-high fencing with self-closing, self-latching gates around swimming pools or spas. This "isolation" fencing could prevent 50 to 90 percent of childhood drownings or near-drownings in residential pools, Safe Kids reports.

  • Designate direct adult supervision. Drownings can still occur when adults are present, but not paying attention. Designate an adult - not an older child - to watch kids in and around swimming pools or hot tubs.

  • Remember, personal flotation devices or swimming lessons will NOT make your child "drown-proof." Kids need constant adult supervision around water. Learn CPR and keep rescue equipment, a phone and emergency numbers near your pool.

Ages 5 to 14

Older children are more likely to drown in open bodies of water, such as the ocean, a lake or pond, and many are victims of boating accidents. In 2003, 62 percent of kids under age 15 who drowned in a boating accident were not wearing life jackets, according to Safe Kids. Safety experts estimate that 85 percent of boating-related drownings could have been prevented if the victim had worn a personal flotation device.

  • Pay attention to the water your kids are swimming in. Understand that there are undercurrents, and that waves and undertows can change at an ocean or lake. If a current is strong, it's advisable not to swim at all. Learn the signs of these hazards.

  • Swim only in lifeguard-supervised areas.

  • Don't let kids dive into water without adult supervision. Be sure the water is at least 9 feet deep.

  • Don't allow kids under age 15 to operate a personal watercraft.

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