Wading into water safety for summer’s start

It’s already hard to find a child who hasn’t dipped their toes in pool or lake water this season. The higher those digits climb on our dashboard thermometers, the faster we head for our favorite swimming spots.

But it’s important to slow down before the next time you pack up the car for a Saturday outing and focus on water safety first. Injuries in the Emergency Department at Arkansas Children’s Hospital seem to spike between Memorial and Labor Day. Accidents ranging from slips on wet pavement to jet ski crashes and drownings are more common than you might imagine.

In fact, drownings are the second leading cause of unintentional injury death among Arkansas kids under age 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So what’s the first rule of summer safety? Supervision! Don’t leave your child alone in or near water for even a moment. Keeping your eyes on your kids is the best way to prevent an injury. If you’re in the water with a little one, keep an arm’s length rule in place. Always be within an arm’s length away from them so if they have trouble swimming you’re right there to help. If your little guppy is under 5, you should always be able to touch them while in bodies of water.

Our mobile devices have ushered in a new era of distraction, and it’s certainly tempting to text or catch up on some eReader selections while the kiddos splash around. Don’t. This distraction can be just as dangerous as texting while driving. Keep your eyes on the kids or designate a water watcher who can.

If you’re enjoying a beautiful day on a boat or other watercraft, take the time to ensure everyone in your party – including the tiniest members – are wearing the appropriate lifejackets, and that they are secured. Make sure it’s zipped up and the straps are fastened, then trying pulling it up from the shoulders. You shouldn’t be able to lift it above the chin; otherwise it’s too large. Don’t forget that it’s up to you to model good behavior for your kids by also wearing a lifejacket.

Remember that anyone who drives a jet ski or boat needs to be at least 16 years old and follow basic traffic rules, including posted speed limits. Those born since 1985 need to complete an Arkansas Game & Fish boater education course to operate a powerboat, jet ski or sailboat. You can find more info under the boating tab at agfc.com.

Swimming lessons from a certified organization like the Red Cross are a great idea for children, but they in no way make kids – or adults for that matter – waterproof. Anyone can drown, no matter their age or skill level. In an ideal world, everyone would also know CPR to give a fighting chance to those who do experience problems while swimming. CPR classes for non-healthcare providers are also available from Red Cross: redcross.org

If you have a pool or are spending summer break at a place with one, keep in mind a few basic tips to protect your child, too.

• Make sure the pool has four-sided fencing that is at least 4 feet tall and surrounds the water entirely. Check the gates and latches to make sure they close on their own. You also want the fences to be climb-resistant and any gates to open away from the water.

• Also remove all toys and floats from the pool after every visit.

• Remind your children not to dive in water that is less than 9 feet deep or if they can’t see the bottom and don’t know how far down it may be.

If there’s one thing we want for families in Arkansas, it’s a fantastic vacation full of fun sun-soaked memories. Taking a little time out to remember safety steps will keep those you love in the water and out of the Emergency Room this summer.

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Dr. Sam Smith is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He writes a column each week covering a variety of kids’ medical concerns.