Madonna Behen

Whether it’s a lazy week spent lounging at the seashore or leisurely afternoons at the town pool, many of our cherished childhood summer memories involve having fun in and around water. To help your little swimmers create happy memories of their own, it’s important to keep them safe and healthy. Below, six key tips to avoid swimming dangers:

1. Pay close attention when kids are even near water.

“Parents often think they can casually supervise their children [when they’re swimming], but parents need to focus and keep a constant eye on their kids,” says Dr. Thomas Abramo, professor and director of pediatric emergency medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, Tenn. “In less than two minutes under water, a child can lose consciousness” -- and brain damage can occur after just five minutes under water.

“All of the cases we have seen this summer involved a situation where it appears the person responsible for watching the child took their eyes off them, even if for a second,” says Abramo. “Caretakers should not be looking at email, texting or even talking on the phone.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “touch supervision” for kids younger than 5. That means you should be within an arm’s length of your child at all times.

2. Use proper flotation devices.

Always have your child wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around water rather than air-filled or foam toys (“water wings,” “noodles” or inner tubes). The latter are toys that are not designed to keep swimmers safe. “Parents often underestimate the need for supervision and certified flotation devices,” says Dr. Kathy Nuss, associate medical director of trauma services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She adds that many parents are surprised to learn that even a relatively shallow depth of water can cause drowning.

3. Make sure the pool is fully child-proofed.

The CDC recommends four-sided fencing that completely separates the house and play area of the yard from the pool area. The fence should be at least 4 feet high. Gates should be self-closing and open outward, with self-latching handles your children can’t reach. Additional barriers like alarms that sound if someone enters the pool area can also be beneficial, but these should not be used as a substitute for a fence.

After swimming, be sure to remove floats, balls and other toys from the pool and surrounding area. Seeing these toys may encourage young children to enter the pool area unsupervised.

4. Learn CPR.

Knowing how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is one of the most important steps parents can take to keep their young children safe, says Nuss. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could literally save a life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CPR performed by bystanders improves survival rates for drowning victims. Certification takes just a few hours; find a class near you or train online with the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association.

5. Prevent ear infections.

Dipping in the water even briefly can result in what’s commonly known as “swimmer’s ear,” an inner-ear infection usually caused by bacteria growth. Ears are best able to self-protect when they’re dry, and even a small amount of trapped water can cause an infection. Common symptoms include itching, discharge, redness, ear pain, swollen lymph nodes and muffled hearing; see your pediatrician if your child experiences any of these symptoms post-pool.

But don’t toss out the swimsuit just yet: Swimmer’s ear can be easily prevented using a homemade preventive eardrop before and after swimming. A 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol dries out the inner ear; tilt your child’s head, pour 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of the solution into the ear and let it drain back out. You can also buy over-the-counter solutions at any drugstore.

6. Keep germs out of the pool.

Drowning and other accidents aren’t the only health hazards associated with swimming. Parents also need to protect their children from so-called recreational water illnesses caused by swallowing or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools and other bodies of water. According to the CDC’s Healthy Swimming program, in the past two decades there’s been an increase in the number of waterborne illnesses such as cryptosporidium (or crypto), a chlorine-resistant parasite that causes diarrhea and is spread by swallowing contaminated pool water. To keep pool water germ-free, the CDC recommends that parents:

- Don’t allow anyone who has diarrhea to enter the pool.

- Regularly take their kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. (If you wait to hear "I have to go," it may be too late.)

- Change diapers far away from the water rather than poolside.

- Wash children thoroughly with soap and water before they enter the pool; invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool.

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