4 Water Safety Tips Every Toddler Parent Should Know

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May is one of my favorite months of the year. It finally feels like spring, the flowers are blooming, we get to celebrate Mothers Day… the list goes on. 

May is also National Water Safety Month. And while it’s certainly less fun to think about water safety when spring is blooming all around us, it couldn’t be more important.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children between the ages of 1-4. As parents who want the best for our children, learning a few toddler water safety tips is one of the best things we can do for our kids. 

toddler water safety tips

Know the Facts: Statistics About Drowning in the U.S.

Warning: this is heavy. 

Drowning is the #1 cause of death for young children.

It surpasses both car accidents and accidents in the home. We are educated about the importance of car seats from before our kids are even born and pediatricians are taught to talk to parents about baby-proofing.

And yet, has your pediatrician ever mentioned water safety at your well child visits? Have they told you a toddler can drown in just 20 seconds?

Talking about water safety is essential.

While the risk is highest for children under four, the CDC reports that older children are at risk, too – there are about 10 drowning deaths in the U.S. each day, and about 20% of those are children age 14 and under.

These statistics alone are alarming. And in reality, they don’t even begin to cover the whole picture. First, the CDC reports that “For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.”

Further, when a child passes more than 24 hours after the drowning incident (like Emmy Miller), that death isn’t counted by the CDC as a drowning. Therefore, the real numbers are far higher than officially reported.

Lastly, near-drowning incidents can be just as traumatic for families. Many children who survive near-drowning incidents suffer long-lasting or even permanent brain injuries.

4 Toddler Water Safety Tips

This information is terrifying, but it doesn’t mean you need to keep your children away from water. Instead, there are actionable steps you can take to introduce your children to the water safely.

toddler water safety tips

1. Teach Children How to Enter the Water Safely

Have you ever asked your child to jump in off the side of the pool for you to catch him or her? I know I have.

While this seems fun, it’s not a recommended way to introduce children to the water. It reinforces the idea that someone will catch or rescue them if they ever jump into the water.

If a toddler is used to jumping in and being caught and thinks it’s a fun game, he might not understand that the same thing won’t happen if he jumps in when a parent isn’t present. He just knows he’s done it in the past and it’s been fun.

Instead, walk your children to the steps of the pool (or whichever entrance is safest) while holding a trusted adult’s hand.

If it’s not an option for them to enter the water on their own, they hopefully will not do it when a parent or adult isn’t present. Once they have the skills to swim safely, of course kids can jump in the water.

Keep encouraging safety by having them jump in and swim to you instead of simply catching them. This will reinforce the idea that they need to work to get to safety in an emergency situation.

Of course, none of this is a substitute for watching your children when they’re in or around the water. Supervision is one of the most important pieces of water safety, no matter how well you teach your children about the potential risks.

2. Avoid Flotation Devices (Even Puddle Jumpers)

While puddle jumpers and other flotation devices seem like a simple way to keep your children safe by the water, they can actually be detrimental. This article from Motherly gives great info if you’d like to dive deeper, but here is the gist: 

  • Floaties give toddlers false confidence. Many think they can swim on their own because they’ve been able to do it in floaties, but they likely don’t actually have the skills.
  • Flotation devices also encourage children to position their bodies vertically in the pool. But without floaties and in an emergency situation, a vertical body position will send a toddler straight down to the bottom of the pool. This is actually called the “drowning position”.
  • The fact that puddle jumpers and the like are U.S. Coast Guard approved is often mentioned by supporters. But, they are not USCG approved as swimming aids. Despite what the marketing tells you, they are NOT meant to be worn while swimming. They’re meant for use while on a boat on open water, dockside, etc. Check out this moving video from Nicole Hughes that explains the misinformation in marketing these devices.

Your safest bet? Avoid floaties altogether and keep children in your arms or at arms reach.  

toddler water safety tips

3. Research Swim Lessons Before Enrolling

One of the very best ways to promote water safety is to teach your children basic swimming and floating skills so they know what to do in an emergency situation. This is where swim lessons come in.

Many swim lessons focus on having fun in the water and some even encourage the use of flotation devices while learning. These lessons seem easier on kids and are certainly more fun at first, but many teach postures that are incompatible with survival in a drowning or near-drowning scenario. 

Luckily, fun and safety can go hand in hand, and there are other, more effective ways to teach your children to swim. This article from Contemporary Pediatrics gives a good overview of several options.

My family has personally had a great experience with ISR, or Infant Swimming Resource, which teaches children how to float and swim in short, intensive lessons. All of my kids (currently ages 18 months – 5.5 years) are strong swimmers and absolutely love the water thanks to ISR. 

Country music star Granger Smith shares his son’s ISR journey in this video if you’d like to get a glimpse into the process. You can also reach out to WeAquatics, which offers ISR lessons locally.

While I’ve loved it, ISR is a major time commitment that doesn’t work for every family. If it’s not for you, I recommend seeking a swim course that will first and foremost teach your child to float, because that is how he or she will get air and conserve energy in the case of an emergency.

toddler water safety tips4. Spread the Word and Advocate for Toddler Water Safety

There are so many warnings we hear as new mothers – “Back is best”, the importance of applying and reapplying sunscreen, the length of time to keep our kids in rear-facing car seats… the list goes on and on and on.

But this month in particular, I encourage you to spread the word about the importance of water safety.

Talk with your children’s’ pediatrician, teachers, babysitters, neighbors, friends, and family members about water safety. Explain how to introduce children to the water safely and the importance of vigilance in and around the water. Every trusted adult in your children’s life should on the same page as you, the parent, when it comes to water safety.

The more we work together to spread the word, the more lives we’ll help save. 

Do you have other toddler water safety tips? Share them in the comments! 

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