Recent downing deaths in the news, including the heartbreaking loss Sunday of a 2-year-old in Waldron this week, make a review of water safety timely.
Swimming is the fourth-most popular recreational activity in the United States and No. 1 among those 7 to 17 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s excellent exercise, but it is potentially dangerous: Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death among children 1 to 4 and the second-leading cause among children 5 to 9, the CDC states. More than 60 percent of fatal drownings among children 4 and younger occur in a swimming pool.
Clearly caution is called for. Both the Children’s Hospital at St. Francis in Tulsa and the Arkansas Children’s Hospital recommend use of a “Water Watcher” when children swim. A water watcher is someone whose sole activity is watching children in the water. The watcher does not talk on the phone, visit with others, sneak a quick nap or drink alcoholic beverages. He or she simply watches the children while they are in the water.
A water watcher is not enough with very small children. For children 5 and younger, the adult caregiver should use “touch supervision.” That means always staying close enough to reach out and touch the child in the water, whether in the tub, pool, lake or other body of water.
We recall the story of a grandmother who was watching her two young grandchildren while they played around a pool. The phone rang. Grandma stepped inside to answer it. She talked for a few minutes — just a few. When she went back to the pool, both children were in the pool and lifeless. No amount of tears could change the horrible outcome.
Backyard pools should be behind a fence with a self-closing, self-locking gate, according to safety experts. Be sure there is nothing nearby that a child could climb on to get over the fence.
Babies can drown in as little as an inch of water, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Older children need just a few inches of water. So be vigilant about emptying buckets, pails and wading pools every time you use them. Store them upside-down and beyond the reach of children.
Remove all toys from the pool when swim time is over, and don’t use floating chlorine dispensers that look like toys. A toddler intent on a toy will not understand the danger the water presents.
Swimming lessons are important, but they shouldn’t give adults a false sense of security. Active adult involvement goes hand-in-hand with water safety instructions. Don’t confuse toys with safety devices; an inflatable raft or ring is not a safety device.
Children’s Hospital at St. Francis discourages the use of water wings, floaties and donuts for children who cannot swim independently. Such children should use Coast Guard-approved personal floatation devices.
Even with scrupulous care, accidents happen. If a child is discovered to be missing, check the pool first; time is precious. For the same reason, keep a phone poolside for emergencies. Those who care for swimming children should know how to do CPR, understanding the correct procedures of children of different sizes and ages.
Hot weather like we are experiencing this week drives people of all ages to the water. Adults who will be swimming also should practice water safety. Swimming and alcohol don’t mix, and anyone of any degree of fitness can be overcome in the water. That’s why the buddy system is as important for adults as it is for children.
Don’t forget the sunscreen. Something formulated to go on and stay on wet skin should be the first item in the beach bag or pool bag. Remember to reapply frequently, but also remember to limit time outside when the sun is highest in the sky.
A long day in the sun can make anyone tired, child or adult. It’s important to end the day before people are tired enough to let accidents happen. A pleasant after-swim ritual, like a shower followed by a piece of fruit and a half-hour watching a favorite show, can make leaving the pool a little easier for children.