Courtney Mann, MD, is Medical Director of WakeMed Children’s Emergency Department.
The dangers of a pool cannot be underestimated for children. And, this danger necessitates a whole new level of adult supervision, because a child can drown in the pool as quickly as they can dart out in front of a car at a busy intersection. Working in the Children’s Emergency Department for so many years has clued me into a few issues that, if avoided, could greatly decrease the number of families impacted by drowning or close-calls.
1. Watching Multiple Children
Pools are especially dangerous when parents are trying to watch multiple children at a time. You only have one set of eyes, so there is no way to keep an eye on multiple children at a time. Make sure that children that can’t swim, or do not swim well, wear an approved life jacket. And, utilize the touch rule when taking your children to the pool by always being within arm’s reach.
2. Overestimating Your Child’s Ability to Swim
One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is overestimating their child’s ability to swim. A child may be able to keep their head above water, but if they aspirate water or panic when someone swims over them in a crowded pool, they could still be in serious trouble quite quickly. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
3. Who is Watching the Children?
Make sure mom, dad or other guardian is well aware of who is watching the children. Mom can get to talking poolside without realizing that a child is in trouble. Mom, dad and kids may all attend the annual 4th of July pool party, and mom assumes dad is watching the kids while dad assumes mom has her eyes on them at all times. Talk about who is responsible for watching the children, and if you want to take turns, pass off an index card between the two of you so you always know who is responsible. And, whoever is responsible should always be paying attention.
4. Be Aware of Surroundings
Every year you hear about children who wander into a backyard pool and drown. Many of these drownings occur in a neighbor’s pools or at a house where the child is visiting. Make sure you know if there is a pool in the backyard or in the neighbor’s backyard before you leave your child anywhere. Talk to your child’s caretaker about the special precautions they must take to ensure your child is safe in the presence of the pool. Explain that the pool is like having a busy intersection nearby and that children need to be watched closely at all times.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Sleep Deprivation
Alcohol and sleep deprivation are contributing factors to drowning because they all impair your ability to swim and slow your reaction time. All of these elements also impair your ability to supervise swimming. Avoid the pool if you are under the influence of alcohol or are sleep deprived.
Pools, although very fun, can also be very dangerous, and underestimating this danger can be deadly-especially for children. Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children 1-4 and is listed among the top 3 leading causes of death in children up to 18 years of age. Be safe this summer by swimming smart.