Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children ages 1 through 4, and 88 percent of those deaths happen while at least one adult is present. Whether it's summer, you live in a warm-weather climate all year (lucky!), or you simply have a bathtub your kids love to play in, at-home water safety is of the utmost importance. And fencing in your pool isn't as far as it goes — the elements of water safety should be an ongoing conversation you have with your kiddos year-round.
We spoke to Jenny McCuiston, a mom of four and the cofounder of Goldfish Swim School, to get her best tips for talking about and executing proper water safety at home. Keep scrolling for her insight, as well as her number one at-home water-safety tip!
Always Have a "Water Guardian" When Kids Are Around Water
According to Jenny, children should always be in sight around water, as drowning can happen in just a few inches of water in a matter of seconds. Her number one tip for parents and other adults who have kids near, in, or around water is to have an appointed "water guardian," which is essentially an at-home lifeguard. This especially helps to eliminate a scenario that can occur when there's more than one adult present around swimming kids: the belief that because other adults and parents are present, someone must have their eye on the kids even if you don't.
"Their sole responsibility needs to be keeping an eye on the swimmers. That means no chatting, no checking your phone, no distractions, as vigilance is a must."
"Adults should always be supervising when children are in or around the water, and a water-guardian tag makes it easy to designate who must keep their eyes on the children," Jenny told POPSUGAR. "A water-guardian tag is a tangible reminder of who is responsible for watching the pool closely. Having to pass the tag off to another adult to watch the children if the water guardian has to use the restroom is an example of how the lanyard helps makes sure there's always someone monitoring . . . Their sole responsibility needs to be keeping an eye on the swimmers. That means no chatting, no checking your phone, no distractions, as vigilance is a must."
Depending on how long you're outside and how many adults there are, Jenny suggests switching up the responsibility and physically handing off the water-guardian tag often — every 30 minutes, if possible, "to keep eyes and minds fresh."
Make Sure You Have All of the Appropriate Water Gear
In addition to a water-guardian tag to denote the adult responsible for watching the kids around water, Jenny suggests having other essential gear like life jackets for young kids still learning to swim on their own, life-preserver rings, and pool alarms.
"Life preservers should always be out and accessible when people are in the water. Because of their disk-like shape, they're great for tossing into the water to help a child if they've gone too deep or if they've fallen in," Jenny said. "US Coast Guard-approved life jackets are also great but shouldn't be worn in a pool if a child has taken swim lessons and is able to safely practice at home — practice helps with confidence and strengthens water-safety skills. However, life jackets should be used in unpredictable waters, like when in a lake, wave pool, or on a boat — by children and adults!"
Jenny noted it's important adults keep in mind that flotation devices aren't proper substitutes for a lifeguard or water guardian, especially when it comes to children who aren't confident enough to swim on their own.
"When choosing what products to buy, keep in mind that not all floatation devices are conducive for helping your child learn to swim. For example, puddle jumpers will help your child float, but they will be floating upright in a vertical position — which is also the 'drowning position.' Not only do puddle jumpers get your child accustomed to floating upright, they prevent children from learning the correct form of swimming."
Enroll Your Children in Swim Lessons
"I always surprise parents when I tell them that they should really teach their youngsters how to swim before age 3, as children can be taught life-saving water safety skills as early as 6 months!"
Learning to swim is often thought to be a childhood rite of passage, but it's an essential life skill that can mean the difference between life and death. In recent years, there's definitely been an increase in awareness surrounding the dangers of drowning, but Jenny has found that some parents are still surprised when she mentions how early kids can be enrolled in swimming lessons.
"Swim lessons teach kids how to stay safe in the water," Jenny said. "I always surprise parents when I tell them that they should really teach their youngsters how to swim before age 3, as children can be taught life-saving water-safety skills as early as 6 months! The American Academy of Pediatrics is also now recommending swim lessons as a layer of protection for children as young as 1. We believe the best way to teach children how to swim is through fun games and exercises that help them build up crucial skills without them even knowing, which is why we developed our curriculum Science of SwimPlay curriculum [at Goldfish Swim School]."
Eliminate Small Hazards That Could Lead to an Accident
Even if you don't have a pool in your yard — or you have one that has a fence and alarm, so you think you're all set — there are plenty of tiny details that may be overlooked and could potentially lead to an accident. "Make sure kiddie pools are flipped over and empty, buckets are upside down, bathtubs are drained, and toilet lids are closed and locked. Curious young minds may fall into anything, and removing small hazards is an easy way to avoid incidents," Jenny said.
She continued: "With larger inflatable pools that are intended to stay filled all summer long, you need to think about how your little one could access that. Removing the ladder or any steps that are used to enter the pool is a good start. Going a step further to install door or pool alarms to alert you of a child getting outside or near the pool will also help. Diving toys, balls, or noodles should never be stored in a pool, as little wanderers may try to retrieve them. Even leaving floatation devices in the water can serve as an open invitation for kids to reach in and try to grab them. Instead, have a designated toy bucket or basket outside of the pool to prevent anyone from slipping and falling into the water."
Talk to Your Kids About Water Safety
Finally, as you would talk to your kids about anything from why they need to wear a helmet to screen-time rules, you should be having conversations about water safety — and not just one time!
"Talking about water and water safety is the first step to helping your child understand the risk. It's important to lay out rules that must always be followed and to stick to them," Jenny said, noting that she and her partner talk to their kids about safety, especially water safety, often. If you're not sure where to start, Jenny offered up her family's list of water-safety rules, which she recommends other parents utilize.
- "Play it cool and follow the rules. Sometimes when our little ones are in play mode, rules fall by the wayside. Review rules together as a family before letting your kids loose to enjoy the water. This is especially important at lakes and beachfronts when there may not be lifeguards on duty enforcing set rules — instead, set guidelines for your children from the beginning."
- "No swim time without supervision. While many of our young ones think they're all grown up and don't need a swim buddy, you can reenforce this rule by explaining this goes for kids and adults alike. Teach your children to always have a buddy in the water, as children can drown in as little as two inches of water. Bottom line: if water is around, make sure someone else is, too."
- "Throw, don't go. It's critical to teach kids what to do in a swimming emergency, as their first instinct may be to go toward the person having trouble in the water. Instead, they should throw a life preserver — and not go into the water. That way, they aren't putting themselves in jeopardy and are truly able to help."