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Drowning remains top cause of death for children one to four; take these steps to keep kids safe in water

By Dr. Scottie Day
Special to KyForward

Ask any child about the best part of summer, and chances are they will say it’s going to the pool or beach. And while parents are aware of the risk of drowning, it remains the number one cause of death in children ages one to four as well as a leading cause of death among teens. Nearly 1,000 children die due to drowning each year, and more than 8,700 children were hospitalized for a drowning event. It’s quick and silent, and it can happen to any family.

(Photo from UK Now)

With many community pools closed for the summer because of COVID-19, families are purchasing small backyard pools to beat the heat. Children are quick and impulsive, so it’s important to supervise them at all times, especially if there’s a tempting new pool in the yard. With the closure of public pools, swim lessons may not be available, so it’s more important than ever to supervise children around pools. Put up barriers to block children’s access or drain it when not in use.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children begin swim lessons at age four, but you should talk to your pediatrician if you think your child is ready earlier. Even if your child has had swim lessons, they should never be unsupervised in water. Toddlers are the highest risk for drowning; their curious nature will lead them to explore areas that are dangerous for them but seem innocuous to adults. A good rule is “touch supervision,” meaning young children should always be close enough to touch when around water. Other tips include:

• Choose a safe place to swim. Ensure that swimming pools are enclosed by a fence on all sides. In oceans, be aware of strong currents and waves.

• Instead of “floaties,” have your child wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around water.

• Assign a “water watcher,” an adult who will pay constant attention to children in the water. Switch off with another adult for breaks.

• Even if a lifeguard is present, pay attention.

Lakes will be busier than ever with public pools closed. Teens and adolescents have a greater risk of death or injury in natural bodies of water because they overestimate their abilities and underestimate dangerous situations. They may feel pressure from their friends even if they don’t have strong swim skills or experience. They may also seek out unsafe swimming areas, such as waterfalls and rivers. Encourage them to only swim where lifeguards are present.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of drowning. It’s not the dramatic splashing you see in movies but is actually subtle and silent. If you see someone vertical in the water with their mouths near the surface, and they appear to be “climbing an invisible ladder,” get them out of the water as soon as possible.

One of the best ways to prepare for summer safety is to learn CPR. Contact your local community center or the Red Cross to find certification courses near you.

Dr. Scottie B. Day is physician-in-chief at Kentucky Children’s Hospital

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