Despite increased awareness about drowning prevention, accidental deaths due to drowning still claim the lives of more than 1,000 children each year. Understanding the risks of drowning as well as some basic drowning prevention techniques can make the difference between life and death. While drowning deaths can occur at any age, the greatest risk occurs between the 0-4 years old, with the highest number occurring between 12 and 36 months.
Children can drown in nearly any body of water. This includes the most obvious—swimming pools, lakes, streams, and the ocean—but also includes bathtubs, toilets, washing machines, and buckets. Even shallow kiddie pools can pose a risk to infants and toddlers. While parental supervision is recommended, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of drowning:
- Adult supervision—Ideally adults should be within “arm’s reach” of a swimming child. They should be focused on the swimmer and free of distractions such as reading material, cell phones, or conversation with other adults. The great majority of drowning deaths occur when there is a lapse in supervision of just a moment or two.
- Pool fences—Isolation fences that surround the pool on all sides are ideal. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has detailed guidelines for pool fences. It is important to note not only your own pool fence but to take inventory of the homes around you that may have a pool. Fencing rules vary from state to state and are often poorly enforced or apply only to new construction.
- CPR training—Basic CPR training can make the difference between a non-fatal and fatal event.
- Swim lessons—The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends formal swim lessons beginning at age one, but does not indorse the concept that swim lessons of any kind will “drown-proof” a child.
- Pool alarms and pool covers are not an adequate substitute for an isolation fence.
- Unlike what is advertised in the movies and on TV, drowning is a silent event. A child will not splash or yell when in trouble.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- More than 1,000 children die each year from accidental deaths due to drowning.
- Children can drown in anything from a lake and stream to a bathtub and toilet.
- Even with swim lessons and CPR training, there is no substitute for parental supervision.