Preventing Drowning in School Children

Drowning is the second leading cause for injury and death in children under age 14. In the amount of time it takes to get a towel, answer the phone, or receive a package at your doorstep, a young child can be seriously injured or drown—even in very shallow water.

Parents and caregivers should supervise children closely, whenever they are around water, and should not allow any distractions. They should take a first-aid course that includes how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Teach the child never to enter the water alone or walk on a frozen pond or lake without your permission and supervision.

To help your child become a competent swimmer, enroll him or her in swimming lessons (beginning at age 4 or older) and provide opportunities for your child to practice swimming. Teaching a child to swim does not take the place of constant supervision.

Water Safety at Home

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  • Use locking covers on hot tubs.
  • Create permanent barriers to drainage ditches, wells, fishponds, and fountains.
  • If you have a pool, install a 4-foot, 4-sided, self-closing fence around it. Always follow your local regulations for pools.
  • Never leave toys floating in a pool, as they can attract children.

Water Safety at the Pool

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  • Do not let children dive into water less than 9 feet deep.
  • Make sure to have rescue equipment and a phone within easy reach.
  • Teach children not to go near pool drains. Suction can cause the child's hair or another body part (e.g., hand, foot) to become entrapped, preventing him or her from escaping and resulting in drowning. Suction from a faulty pool drain can also cause disembowelment injuries.
  • Do not rely on inflatable or foam-filled toys as a substitute for supervision.

Water Safety at a Lake, River, or Ocean

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  • Rely only on Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs). Make sure your child is wearing the proper size PFD for their weight. Parents and children should always wear a PFD when on a boat of any kind (e.g., powerboat, sailboat, canoe, kayak).
  • Supervise your child even if a lifeguard is present.
  • Be aware of currents, riptides, undertow, and changing weather patterns.

If your child has a near drowning experience, contact your health care provider immediately—even if the child seems to be okay. Serious complications, including secondary drowning and others, are common.

Call 9-1-1 if your child experiences any of the following symptoms in the minutes and hours after near drowning:

  • Breathing problems (shallow breaths, gasping, wheezing)
  • Bluish skin around the lips, cold skin, or pale appearance (after warming up from cool water)
  • Distended abdomen
  • Chest pain
  • Cough (may be accompanied by pink or frothy sputum) or vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Unusual behavior (irritability, confusion, restlessness)

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015