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Stay safe in the pool

Don’t let summer fun turn into disaster

June 10, 2012
Times Leader

If you think being poolside, or anywhere around a swimming pool is the time to relax your vigilance when it comes to preventing accidents, you could not be more wrong.

Nationally, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death for children under five.

Think heading to the local pool, whether it is in your back yard, just down the street at a neighbor's house, or at your community's recreation center, will offer the perfect opportunity for you to relax your watchful parenting skills while your little ones enjoy splashing around the pool? Think again.

Pools and beaches are a great place to enjoy family and friends, but they are not the place to relax about the details of who is keeping a close eye on which kids.

Pools and poolside summertime fun are to be enjoyed, but constant attention to safety is vital, as the consequences of not paying attention to what's happening in and near a body of water can be devastating and all too often, are deadly.

Estimates show that nearly 260 children under the age of five die as a result of drowning every year in pools at homes and at spas.

These numbers for drowning deaths involving children age five and under are reported by the Consumer Safety Commission.

There is more.

In addition to the deaths from drowning of young children, estimates show another 3,000 in that same age range of five and under need emergency room treatment because of what are called submersion accidents each year.

Some of these accidents result in a child suffering permanent brain damage.

In California, Florida and Arizona, and some other states, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children under five years old, according to government reports.

While experts from various fields involved with children's safety issues do not have a unified opinion regarding when children should take swimming lessons, there has been a shift in the thinking shared publicly by The American Academy of Pediatrics.

The academy has changed its stand on swimming lessons for toddlers and preschool age children. The organization's membership was previously against the idea that these youngsters experience swim lessons. Now the organization neither objects nor recommends how parents should proceed when it comes to deciding whether or not to enroll a young child in a swimming class. The main focus of the AAP is that all children learn to swim. Parents who are thinking about the best time to start swim lessons should keep in mind that the AAP states that "by 4 years of age, most children can learn basic aquatic locomotion, and by 5 or 6 years of age, most of them can master the front crawl."

That is why many parents start swim lessons when kids are four years old to learn basic skills and then do lessons again the next year, when most kids really learn to swim. And they can continue regular lessons after that to improve their swimming skills.

While swimming lessons do not drown-proof anyone, certainly not a young child, having the knowledge may make enough of a difference to prevent serious injury or death.

"They still stress that early swimming lessons won't drown-proof your child. In fact, nothing ever will. That's why a layers of protection plan, with multiple safety barriers in place, like an isolation fence around the pool, adult supervision, and making sure kids always wear a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device, etc., are important too," is the recommendation from nationally recognized pediatrician, Dr. Vincent Iannelli.

When it comes to the use of cute, colorful items like the popular floaties to help ensure a child's safety around water, make a better choice, say experts from a variety of disciplines ranging from water safety and recreation experts to healthcare experts.

A top choice when it comes to water safety is always made when selecting - and using correctly - a Coast Guard approved life vest or life jacket that is the right size for the individual and is being worn the right way.

Other commonly used flotation devices that are not considered to be safe enough to protect younger kids in the water include a variety of items including things like inflatable tubes, air mattresses, rafts, inflatable seats and riders for babies and toddlers, swim rings, wave surf boards, noodles and the like.

"While these flotation devices can be fun in the water, if your child doesn't know how to swim, be sure to also use a Coast Guard approved life vest or life jacket at the same time. And stay within arms reach when your younger child is in the water," is Iannelli's standard suggestion.

Like many things in today's highly specialized world, there are life jackets made strictly for young children to wear, so spend a few minutes researching what qualities make up a quality life vest or personal flotation device for your child.

When selecting a size or type of safety device for your child, one of the first considerations is often the child's weight. Choosing which life jacket is the right size for a specific child is not the time to base a decision on how many years wear you can get out of something if you "size up" even just a little. Purchase the size that reflects the best fit range now.

Experts agree this kind of precision is a big plus when it comes to the safety of any child around or in water - young ones and up.

How do you make sure a safety item fits correctly? Pick your child up by the shoulders of the personal flotation device. If chin or ears slip below the neck opening, it's too large.

The American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid, Aquatics, Safety and Preparedness also has an optional recommendation that "young children may optionally start swim lessons for the purpose of building aquatic readiness and water acclimation on an individual basis any time after the first or second year of life."

These early swim lessons teach basic survival skills, including the ability to: right oneself after falling into the water, proceed a short distance in the water, such as to the side of the pool float or tread water until someone can pull them out of the water.

"To prevent drowning, all parents and children should learn survival swimming skills." This is the position taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though they do not include ages in their recommendations.

Parents who choose this type of survival swimming skills training can likely find classes at their local YMCA, American Red Cross Chapter, and private infant aquatic and infant swimming resource providers.

Even when you try to avoid mistakes and do everything right, accidents can happen. That is why it is best to use a "layers of protection" method to keep your kids safe around the water, say safety professionals. For example, if someone leaves the back door of the house open and your toddler gets in the back yard, then you still have a fence keeping your child out of the pool.

Using more than one type of child safety technique as a protection against drowning means that if one protective layer breaks down, then one of the other layers of protection will still be in place to keep your kids safe. With a strategy such as this in place, you will go a long way towards preventing a summer of fun from turning into a disaster.



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