Children love to play in and around water, but no matter where you find it – in a bucket, bowl, toilet, tub, sink, puddle, or pool – water can be dangerous. And although you've probably heard this more than once, it's worth repeating: A young child can drown in an inch of water.
To help protect your child from accidental drowning, make sure her outdoor play area doesn't have even a small source of water. If your child is playing near water (like at a park with an area for water play), keep your eyes on her.
And at a pool or the beach, it's fine to let her splash and play to her heart's content – as long as you supervise and stay close. Always remain within arm's reach of any child who can't swim well.
What about water safety in the bathtub?
The most important thing to remember is to never leave your young child unattended in a bathtub, even for a minute. If the phone rings and you must answer it, wrap your child in a towel and take her with you.
Other ways to help keep your child safe:
- Cover the bottom of the tub with a rubber suction mat to prevent slipping, and fill the tub with only 3 to 4 inches of warm water. If your baby can't sit up securely on her own, support her back so she stays upright.
- For kids who can sit up, a bath ring may provide you with an extra "hand." But don't let it give you a false sense of security: Babies can tip over or get trapped under them, so it's no substitute for keeping your eye – and a hand – on your baby at all times.
- Keep the toilet lid down and the bathroom door closed, or get a lid lock for the toilet.
Read our article on bathtub safety for more tips.
How can I keep my child safe in the pool or at a lake?
You may want to wait until your baby can hold up her head on her own (usually by 4 or 5 months) before taking her swimming in a pool or lake. When your child is old enough to go into the water with you, follow these steps for staying safe:
- Be prepared and take an infant/child CPR course.
- Any time you're near water, have your child wear a personal flotation device (PFD) that fits properly and is approved by the U.S Coast Guard. Don’t rely on inflatable toys (like water wings) to keep your child safe in the water.
- Don't dunk a baby underwater. Although infants may naturally hold their breath, they're just as likely to swallow water. That's why babies are more susceptible to the bacteria and viruses in pool water and lakes that can cause gastroenteritis and diarrhea.
- Before you decide to swim at a public pool or lake, make sure it has lifeguards on duty, is equipped with rescue equipment in good condition, and has a readily accessible phone for emergencies. Take your cell phone along with you too.
- If you're swimming in your home pool, bring your phone outside so you won't be tempted to run into the house to answer a call.
- At home, remove toys from the water and deck of your pool so they don't entice your child to play in or around the pool when you're not looking.
- If you have a permanent pool, make sure it's completely enclosed with a fence that's at least 4 feet high. It should also have a self-closing, self-latching gate that opens away from pool. Always lock the gate after each use, and make sure there's nothing your child can climb on to get over the pool's fence.
- For home pools and spas, make sure the drain has an anti-entrapment cover or other drain safety system, such as an automatic pump shut off. Pool drains have been named one of the top five hidden home hazards by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The suction from a pool drain can be strong enough to hold even an adult underwater, pulling on the hair or on the body and forming a seal. Missing or faulty covers often cause the problem, and an upgrade may save a life.
- Drain inflatable or plastic wading pools after each use, and store in an upright position.
See our tips to keep your child safe in the sun.
Should my child take swimming lessons?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a couple of small studies have found that swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 4 may lower the risk of drowning. But swimming lessons aren't a reliable way to protect your child (and they aren't recommended for children younger than 1). There's simply no substitute for adult supervision when it comes to pool safety.
And some kids may not be developmentally ready for swim lessons until they are at least 4 years old. Whether swimming lessons are right for your child depends on how often she's around water and her physical abilities.
If you decide to enroll your child in a swimming class, find a program that follows the national YMCA guidelines for swim instruction. Among other things, these guidelines advise instructors not to submerge young children and encourage parents to participate in lessons.
And as soon as you start bringing your child to the pool or lake, begin teaching simple water safety rules including:
- Don't go near water without an adult, and use the buddy system in the water.
- Never dunk another child.
- Don't run on the pool deck or boat dock.
- Always jump in feet first.
Even children who aren't talking yet are able to understand a lot more than they can say. Teaching water safety early makes sure your child is familiar with the basics of water safety as she gets older and learns to swim.
What should I do if my child slips under the water?
Whenever your child is in the water, it's extremely important not to leave her unattended, even for a second. If she slips under for a moment during a bath or while playing in the pool, she'll probably come up coughing and sputtering.
But if she's been underwater for longer than that, you'll need to move calmly and quickly. Follow these steps:
- Lift your child out of the water.
- Gently tap or shake your child to see if she responds. If she's unresponsive, isn't breathing, or if she has no pulse, immediately start infant/child CPR.
- If someone is nearby, shout for help and tell them to call 911. If you're alone with your child, perform CPR for two minutes and then pause to call 911.
- Keep doing CPR until your child begins breathing on her own again or until emergency personnel arrive.
- If your child has come close to drowning, immediately take her to the emergency room for a complete medical evaluation. Even if she appears fine, she may have inhaled water and stopped breathing, which could cause lung or nervous system damage.
Although it's unlikely you'll ever need to do CPR on your child, it's wise to learn how to do it just in case. For more information, see our illustrated CPR guides for infants and children.