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Ask Dr. Marla: Kids and water safety


I’m nervous about my four year-old being around water. What can I do to help both her and my confidence?


To answer your question I turned to the Canadian Red Cross and Parachute, two organizations devoted to injury prevention.

The best way to feel safer around the water is to invest in swimming lessons. The Red Cross has infant and preschool programs that will teach you how to effectively supervise children around water. Remember that young children do not understand the danger of water or that they don’t yet know how to swim. All it takes is as little as one inch of water for a child under five to drown. In addition, you as an adult should get trained in CPR and water rescue.

On average, 57 kids drown every year in Canada, more boys than girls. While it is not clear why, it may be because parents accept more risk-taking behaviour in boys than girls. The Red Cross reports that 85 percent of parents say when their child is swimming with a buddy, they change the way they supervise, yet kids between five and 14 who drown were with a buddy twice as often as they were alone. Only 50 percent of parents say they ALWAYS supervise their kids around water, the other half say they can effectively supervise kids by listening for signs and symptoms of distress. But as the Red Cross points out, children who drown are often silent.

Four in 10 children drown in water less than one metre deep and more than 90 percent of kids who drown in shallow water are not with an adult. Only three percent of kids who drowned were identified as strong swimmers, according to the Red Cross.

Here’s my basic advice:

  • Adult supervision is required at all times around water. And that doesn’t necessarily mean only while participating in water activities. Depth is not a predictor of risk so the supervision extends to pools, open bodies of water and shallow water. Infants and toddlers drown mainly in bathtubs and pools. Older children and youth drown mostly in large bodies of water.
  • When boating, have your child wear the PFD, don’t just have it in the boat.
  • Enroll your child in swimming lessons, they are known to save lives.
  • If you have a backyard pool, install four-sided fencing around it. If you are visiting a backyard pool without four-sided fencing, keep your eyes on your child.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, August/September 2014.

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