By Steve Hicks, MD, PhD
Dr. Hicks is the Chief Medical Officer for As You Are and Associate Professor of Academic General Pediatrics at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine. He has spent the last decade serving the community as a researcher and general pediatrician, performing well-child check-ups, sick visits and developmental evaluations. As a physician scientist, Dr. Hicks studies the influence of genetics and the environment on pediatric health.
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and many families celebrate with summertime fun. Whether it’s a backyard cookout, a long weekend trip to the beach or just opening your pool for the year, these water safety tips can help you keep your kids safe around water every day of the year.
Introduce your child to water early
If you haven’t already, introduce your child to water! Sometimes, entering a pool or a lake for the first time can be daunting for children – they’re unable to touch the ground, water may splash their face and temperatures can be inconsistent. However, you can build confidence in the water relatively easily in your home, and all you need is a cup and a bathtub or shower.
- Start by making sure the bath or shower is at a warm and comfortable temperature for your child so they will not get cold.
- Bring some toys that can get wet into the bath or shower to keep it as inviting and fun for them as possible.
- After they become accustomed to the water, explain to them that you want to pour water on their head. Make it fun and playful!
- All of this can help them remain comfortable with water running into their eyes – cheer them on positively with affirmations even if they get upset!
- “Rinse and Repeat” – keep repeating the process! It has been shown that young kids learn well from repetition.
Regardless of where you are swimming, here are a few tips that could make the experience more enjoyable:
- Comfortable Swimwear: Find a bathing suit that’s comfortable and your child enjoys wearing, and consider changing before you get to your destination to make the process easier
- Water Accessories: Grab some goggles, water toys and appropriate Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) like a life jacket or water wings. These can help a child feel more comfortable and have fun around the water, but none of them should be used in place of adult supervision.
- Sunscreen: Heading outside? Protect your little one’s skin with an SPF of 30 or higher. If your child has sensory issues or dislikes about applying sunscreen, consider switching to a lotion or stick instead of a spray, or even applying the sunscreen with a makeup sponge or paintbrush!
- Don’t forget to hydrate – bring water or another beverage with electrolytes! Whether your little one is swimming indoors or outdoors, they are using a lot of energy!
Survey the scene
Everywhere is a little different, and even a pool in your own backyard can look different each day! So, before your child gets into the water, it is always a good idea to check the area for anything out of the ordinary or things that could help keep your child safe. Here are a few things you could look for:
- Check to see if there are any immediate dangers with the water, like if it is too cold or too warm or if there is an animal visiting.
- Note any specific features that might be unique to the pool or beach, like a sign saying when the tide changes or a rope indicating where the water gets deeper.
- Point out who and where the lifeguards or another trusted caregiver are, so if you or your child needs help, they know who to look for.
Know the rules
Despite a lot of pools having similar rules like no running or no diving in shallow water, every body of water is different. Whether it is a public pool, a waterpark, a beach or your home swimming pool, it is important to know the rules to help keep your kiddo and family safe.
Talk to your child about what they can expect! Social stories are a great tool for this, and you can easily make them yourself. Social stories include a series of pictures with brief labels on a piece of paper which can help kids visualize what you are describing. If you are creating your own social story, include any noises that might happen, like a lifeguard’s whistle or a PA system, alongside more common rules like no running on the deck or roughhousing.
Swimming lessons rock!
Swimming lessons are a fun activity that could even save a life, and with that in mind, it is especially important for kiddos to learn how to swim! You can often check out swimming lesson opportunities in your area by looking at your local recreation department’s website or by inquiring at a local gym, YMCA, JCC or other similar organization. And, if you still can’t find anything, ask your child’s pediatrician. They may have some recommendations for water safety programs for kids.
If you are worried your child might be too young to start lessons, don’t be! Many places have parent and child swim lessons where an instructor leads the lessons while a parent is in the water with their child the whole time.
Safety is vital, but remember to have fun around the water – engage with them, consider playing in the water with them or using water toys! This can help your child enjoy being around the water.