The death of any child is a tragedy. But nothing prepares parents for unexpected, accidental deaths of infants, toddlers and preschoolers—especially when that death is by drowning. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children under the age of five. Many of these children die in less than two-inches of water in the bathtub, toilet, pools and buckets.
Drowning can happen in a small amount of water because the immediate reaction of a young child lying face down in water is to either cry or breathe, causing the inhalation of water into the lungs.
How can we protect our children, from infants through their teenage years, from joining the over 500 children who have died by drowning in the last twenty-five years? What can we do to safeguard our homes, pools and children?
Infants (ages 0-1)
The house is full of drowning hazards for this age group—bathtubs, toilets, coolers with melted ice and large buckets. Many of these drownings occur when children are left alone or with young siblings for a few seconds. A child can easily lean forward to look into the toilet or bucket and tip into the container and under the water. With children this age, their heads are the heaviest parts of their bodies, making it easy to fall into a container, but hard to get out. Most of their bodies weigh less than the container filled with a small amount of liquid, according to the fact sheets “A Parent’s Guide to Water Safety” published by the University of Alabama Department of Family Practice.
How to Safeguard Your Home:
Toddlers and Preschoolers (ages 1-5)
While these children can get into water mishaps in your home, they are even more likely to get into a dangerous water situation outside. Swimming pools are the number one drowning risk for preschool-age children, who have drowned while adults have been supervising and when adults have been absent. Children this age can easily slip into the water without making a splash.
If you do not already own a pool, the Department of Family Practice recommends not installing one until all of your children are over the age of five. And then install a pool only after your children have had swimming lessons, though do not allow the lessons to give you a false sense of security. People who have known how to swim have also drowned. Rules for yard water safety, according to Children’s Hospital:
School-age children (ages 5-12)
School-age children are usually into swimming and water sports, which puts them at an additional risk for drowning, especially those children who frequent lakes, oceans, rivers and streams. Often children are injured by diving into too shallow of water or by dunking each other and roughhousing. As is the case with small children, never let unsupervised school-age children swim, dive or play near water.
Teach children safety rules such as no running or pushing around pools, and to only cry for help in a true emergency—remember the fable of the boy who cried wolf. Always wear a life vest when boating, fishing or water skiing.
More safety rules:
Adolescents (ages 12-18)
Though the children in this age group also drown, the reason has often to do with the combination of alcohol and/or other drugs and swimming in dangerous locations. Adolescents tend to swim in unsupervised places, such as water-filled quarries, rivers and ponds. Serious spinal cord injuries and drowning deaths are a result of diving into shallow areas (especially where the water depth is unknown until too late) and of springing upward from a board only to hit it on the way down.
Often when teenagers are intoxicated they take risks they otherwise would not take. Diving and water sports take coordination, concentration, and the abilities to judge speed and depth—things very clouded by the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Encourage your teen to abstain from mind-altering substances when s/he is around water. Also, encourage your teen to take swimming, diving, water safety and rescue classes. These classes will help prepare your teen for an emergency, but will also make him less likely to act reckless.
No matter what the age of your children, taking a CPR class is an important part of drowning prevention. Call the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association or your local hospital or fire department for classes near you.
Jill L. Ferguson often writes about family issues. She is also an editor, public speaker and professor of literature, communication and creative writing. Her novel, Sometimes Art Can't Save You, was published in October 2005 by In Your Face Ink (http://www.inyourfaceink.com ). The book is about a teenage girls attempts at surviving the chaos that surrounds her family.