Pool Time! Outdoor Safety for Children Under 5


two girls playing in the poolAs summer approaches, thoughts of warmer weather and outdoor relaxation are on the horizon. For many of us, that means squeezing in as much pool time as possible as the temperatures rise.

But before jumping in, let’s take a moment to review the importance of pool safety for our littles. While water safety may seem straight forward, it’s serious business and worth a refresher. According to the CDC, drowning remains the leading cause of death in children 1-4 years old with the exception of birth defects in the U.S.

Most drownings in those 4 and under occur in home swimming pools. Thankfully, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers pool safety guidelines to help keep our kiddos safe this summer.

Creating Barriers

Children are naturally intrigued by water. It’s therefore not surprising that unexpected, unsupervised access to water is the largest drowning threat for parents of toddlers. Nearly 70% of drownings in those 4 and under occur during times that were not planned or anticipated swim times. The AAP recommends creating multiple layers to water access, an effective strategy to prevent drowning during non-swim times.

Layer #1. Pool Fences.

According to evidence, appropriate pool fencing can prevent greater than half of all swimming pool drownings in young children. Whether you have access to an in-ground pool, hot tub or other above-ground temporary pool, it should be fenced on all four sides. Fences should be at least 4-feet high and not climbable (hence, the lack of recommendation for chain link fences). The openings below and between fence slats should be 4 inches or less in width to help prevent squeezing through. Fences should also include a self-closing gate with automatic latching and locking capability. Lastly, gates should open away from the pool and the latch should be at least 4.5 feet above the ground to prevent easy reaching.

Layer #2. Alarms.

Although not a substitute for fencing, alarms add another line of defense in pool time safety.

Unlike the Baywatch-like depictions of screaming and waving, drowning is often silent. Pool alarms work by detecting any break in a pool’s water surface. Thus, a fall or a toe poke into water sounds the alarm for attention.

It’s also wise to install alarms at home exit points and on the pool gate. If you’re worried about noisiness, these can often be programmed for adults to pass through without being constantly set off.

In addition, window guards are worthy for consideration especially for any windows facing the poolside.

Layer #3. Pool Covers

Again, pool covers are not meant to replace pool fences, yet help add another safety barrier if maintained properly. Pool covers should securely encompass the entire pool and power-operated ones are the safest option. Think super snug so that a child cannot make their way underneath. Given drowning can occur in just a few inches or less of water, it’s also extremely important that no standing water collects on the surface of the cover.

Now for (another) important take-home message. Floating covers are not the same thing and can actually increase the risk of drowning.

They appear solid, create a false sense of security for walking or crawling upon and increase the risk of being trapped or hidden underneath.

More Pool Time Layers

While the above pool safety measures are important, we’ve only covered the tip of the water safety iceberg. A topic of utmost importance to my pediatrician and parent heart. For more information, stay tuned for a follow-up post. In the meantime, visit the AAP’s healthychildren.org for more worthy evidence-based water safety information every parent should know.

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Paras is an Iranian American, born in Tehran and raised in Texas. She is now pleased to call Colorado home. She is the mother of two rambunctious boys, a wife to an equally rambunctious husband (genetics!) and a pediatrician. Paras attended medical school at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and went on to complete her pediatric residency training at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Her special interests include childhood advocacy, healthcare education, and she absolutely loves working with new parents. After having children of her own, she quickly realized that raising kiddos was not as straightforward as many pediatric medical texts or parenting books might imply! She has found it extremely fulfilling to navigate the challenging, yet rewarding world of being a working mom alongside her patients and peers. In her spare time, Paras enjoys hiking, embroidery and is an aspiring yogi on the journey to attaining and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.