Drowning prevention: How to keep your child safe this summer

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents under 20. What parents need to know to help their kids stay safe!
Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 8:34 AM MDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 12:30 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And it’s a stat that touches kids in all age groups, not just the littlest ones. The AAP says that while the highest rate of fatal drowning is among infants and young children in 0-4 age range, the second-highest rate is actually among adolescents 15-19 years old.

Experts say the single greatest line of defense for parents in preventing these tragedies is making sure your children know how to swim. For more on this, 11 News anchor Katie Pelton sat down with the lead author of the AAP’s policy statement on the prevention of drowning, Dr. Sarah Denny. Below is their conversation.

Pelton: Dr. Denny, first, tell me about the new guidelines that are released. What do parents need to know?

Denny: “Drowning has been a leading cause of death in kids for a long time, and sadly it is still the leading cause of injury death in kids 1 to 4 in our country. It’s really key that we’re proactive in preventing these drowning deaths. So when we release the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement, we really focused on two different scenarios. One is when children are expected to be around water, and that’s where we have layers of protection such as swimming lessons, lifeguards, adult supervision, life jackets, that kind of thing. Then there’s the instance in which a child is not expected to be in and around water, so that would be if you have a swimming pool at your house and you’re cooking dinner, you’re not expecting your children to gain access to the water, so you may not have eyes directly on them, but there’s still a drowning risk, so what can we do to prevent drowning in that scenario. And that would be four-sided fencing, door alarms, restricting access for the child to get to the water.”

I actually had my daughter signed up for swimming lessons at the beginning of the pandemic, and eventually they were called off and the pool was shut down. I did get her back into classes because this has always been a concern of mine. This happened to a lot of parents, is that what you are hearing?

“For those families who did have their kids in swimming lessons prior to the pandemic, they may not have been in a swimming pool in those two years, so you can’t expect their swimming skills to be the same that they were previously, so definitely proceeding with caution, getting them reenrolled in swimming lessons to get refamiliar with the water and how to keep themselves safe is really important. So yeah, there’s some kids who were younger during the pandemic time and they’ve never had swimming lessons.”

I will also say, I know some pools and rec centers are offering quick classes to try and get kids caught up. Instead of taking months of lessons, they have lessons every day for a couple of weeks. What other advice do you have? What can we do at the pool or at home?

“Great question. One really important thing is that swimming lessons are great, and they’ve been shown in kids over one to decrease the risk of drowning, but it’s important to remember too that swimming lessons don’t drown-proof our kids, so just because your child has had swimming lessons, doesn’t mean that they can go without adult supervision, so when they are at the swimming pool, even if there’s a lifeguard on duty, if you have a beginning swimmer, you should still be within arm’s reach of that swimmer, really close parent supervision or adult supervision. It’s helpful if you’re maybe at a lake or at a large gathering, to have an assigned water-watcher and it’s that person’s duty and job to watch without distraction the kids in the water. That means you’re not on your phone, you’re not reading your book. And you can rotate that person every so often so it’s not the same person who’s kind of doing that responsibility. But having one person identified is really key because you know the old adage when it comes to watching kids is, ‘When everybody’s watching, nobody’s really watching.’ So it’s really important to have that designated person.”

In 2017, drowning claimed the lives of almost 1,000 U.S. children younger than 20. Which age group is at highest risk?

“The age group that’s ages 1 to 4 years old has the leading risk of drowning. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-death in that age group. But we also see another peak in adolescents, and that’s more in the open-water scenario, so in a quarry, in a lake, that kind of thing -- that can multi-factorial, the reasons why, sometimes there’s substance use going on, many times kids might overestimate their own abilities, more risk-taking behaviors. So we definitely see another peak in that age group.

“You were asking about toddlers; actually, kids 0 to 1 are most likely to drown in the home, so in the bathtub, buckets of water, in the toilets even, so thinking what’s within your home that’s a drowning risk is important to consider, as well.”

Any other advice this summer?

“Swimming is a life skill. Even if you’re not an amazing swimmer or your child is not an amazing swimmer, they don’t have beautiful strokes, they’re not on the swim team, that is okay. But kids should be able to have enough training and skills to be able to get themselves up to the surface of the water if they were to fall in and then get themselves over to safety.

“I would also say, CPR is really important for the adults. We know that quick-bystander CPR really improves the morbidity and mortality in kids who have had a drowning submersion event, so really making sure that we’re brushed up on those skills is very important to us, as well.”

Click here for a link to the AAP guidelines.

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