'It Can Happen to Anyone'

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Drowning can be silent and quick, and it kills nearly 1,000 children every year. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics has released new water safety guidelines; a campaign to help parents prevent such tragedy.

Drowning is the single leading cause of injury or death among children ages 1 to 4. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 350 children under the age of 5 drown in pools nationwide each year, the majority of the deaths occurring in the summer months in backyard pools.

One of the new recommendations is that children start swimming lessons at the age of one-year-old to learn proper water safety. Ideally, programs should teach ‘water competency’ too – the ability to get out of the water if your child ends up in the water unexpectedly.

But the AAP warns that even the best swim lessons cannot “drown-proof” a child, so the group strongly recommends parents take steps to make a child’s environment safer.

“Many of these deaths occur when children are not expected to be swimming or when they have unanticipated access to water,” said Dr. Sarah Denny. “Toddlers are naturally curious; that’s why we must implement other strategies, such as pool fencing and door locks.”

A four-sided fence is the most important safeguard from homes with a pool, but parents and caregivers should also be mindful of other bodies of water. Most parents know to never leave a child alone near open water, but the new recommendations suggest that caregivers should empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use and put locks on bathroom toilets.

Additionally, whenever an infant or toddler is in the water, an adult who knows how to swim should always be within an arm’s length distance from them.

But it’s not just toddlers who are at risk. Teenagers are the second-highest age group most likely to be involved in a drowning related death, with 370 teens and pre-teens losing their life each year.

“Adolescents can be overconfident in their swimming abilities and are more likely to combine alcohol use with swimming – compounding their risk significantly,” said Denny. 

Teens are encouraged to learn CPR and other water safety skills. All children and teens should wear life jackets while near open bodies of water.

Several parents who have lost children to drowning are joining the AAP in the push to refocus the attention of parents and physicians on drowning risks and prevention. Olympic skier Bode Miller, whose 19-month daughter, Emmy, drowned in a neighbor’s swimming pool last year, and Nicole and Jonathan Hughes, whose 3-year-old son, Levi, wandered outside and drowned while on a family vacation last year, have partnered with the AAP to share their stories.

“Having families share their personal stories, we hope, will help connect with parents who may think it could ‘never happen’ to them,” said Dr. Ben Hoffman of the AAP. “Tragically, it can happen to anyone.”