Swimming is synonymous with summer for kids.
Beaches, pools, splash pads, water parks — visit any of these from June to September, and your senses will be overwhelmed by the sight of splashing, the smell of sunscreen, and the sound of parents yelling, "Stay where I can see you!" and "Where is your hat?!"
But as much fun as swimming can be, it's also dangerous. Drowning is the second-leading cause of death in Canadian kids under age five, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). Almost 60 children die from drowning in Canada every year, and another 140 require hospitalization from near drownings, according to Parachute, a Canadian charity dedicated to safety advocacy.
A small child can drown in just seconds, and in only a few centimetres of water, Canadian Red Cross (CRC) added. Older children and youth are most at risk of drowning in larger bodies of water, while younger kids and babies are most at risk in pools (even toddler pools) and bathtubs. Backyard swimming pools are the worst culprit for child drownings, according to CPS.
The risks are scary, but with proper precautions you can protect your children and still enjoy a cool dip on a hot day.
Here are some essential tips to keep your kids safe while splashing this summer.
1. Supervise, supervise, supervise
"The absence of adult supervision is a factor in most child drownings," CRC said on its website.
Children need to be watched actively in or around pools, water parks, the beach or the bathtub — even if they can swim, according to CRC. Adults should stay within arm's reach of any children under age five, and older children who don't know how to swim, Parachute said. And don't just rely on an older sibling to watch a younger one, as children have drowned as older children watched them.
Never leave a child alone in a pool or bathtub, not even for a moment, CPS said. And remember that most drownings are silent. "Drowning usually happens when a child just slips under the water," Parachute said.
2. Life jackets are key
Young children and weak swimmers should always wear life jackets when in, on, or around the water, or on a boat, Parachute said. They should be worn by all infants who weigh at least 20 pounds and by toddlers who are swimming or playing near the water, CPS said. Approved life jackets are not available in Canada for children under 20 pounds — these children should always be held, CPS added.
Parents can choose either a life jacket or a PFD for their child, as long as they're designed for children, meet current national safety standards, and are approved by: Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada, CPS said.
"It should fit snugly and not ride up over your child's chin or ears," Transport Canada noted, adding that a device that's too big could do more harm than good.
"A lifejacket or PFD is no substitute for adult supervision. Children should be within arm's reach as well as wearing a proper flotation device at all times," Transport Canada said on its website.
3. Fence-in backyard pools
"Backyard pools are especially dangerous for small children. Ensure adequate barriers are in place such as four-sided fencing along with a self-closing, self-latching gate," CRC said.
The fence should be at least 1.2 metres high and go all the way around the pool, Health Canada noted. The gate's latch should be beyond the child's reach, and should always be locked, the agency said. And since children can climb up items like toys, tools and garden furniture, these should be kept away from the pool fence.
If you have a hot tub that's not contained within the fence, make sure it has a hard cover that can be locked, CPS said. And empty toddler pools when they're not in use (bonus — this also reduces the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses).
4. Learn CPR
CPR is something you never want to have to use, but in an emergency situation you'll be grateful you know how. Parents should sign themselves up to learn basic lifesaving skills, Health Canada said.
"If your child was to get into trouble while you were supervising, water safety training could help save her life," Parachute explained. They recommend contacting your local municipality to find information on training courses.
Canadian Red Cross offers courses across the country.
"Parents and pool owners should learn how to swim and how to rescue a drowning victim. They should also maintain certification in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Pool owners should have an emergency action plan, rescue equipment, and a telephone on the deck or poolside," CPS said.
5. Don't rely solely on swimming lessons
While swimming lessons are a good way to teach kids confidence around the water, they're not enough to prevent kids from drowning, Parachute said on its website.
"Children under five years of age do not have the physical skills to perform swimming strokes on their own," Parachute said, adding that older kids with stronger swimming skills should still be supervised.
"Several studies show that children do not have the skills to swim on their own until they are four years old, even if they start lessons at a younger age," CPS said on its website. For kids under four, swimming lessons should be about building water confidence and teaching parents water safety, CPS said.
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