Water Safety Tips for the Silent Killer Among Children: Drowning


Water safety is important, especially with summertime here, but it is crucial for parents to remain vigilant all year round.

Water safety is important, especially with summertime here, but it is crucial for parents to remain vigilant all year round. Drowning is the leading cause of injury death in children 1 to 4 years of age in the United States. Nearly 1000 children in the United States died due to drowning in 2017.

Most infants drown in bathtubs and buckets, while preschool-aged children generally drown in swimming pools. Teens ages 15-19 years have the second highest fatal drowning rate, and alcohol use is a leading risk factor. Drowning is a silent killer that only takes seconds, and health care providers can play an important role in educating families about the importance of water safety.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their recommendations based on new information and research regarding water safety.1 Children should receive swim lessons starting at 1 year of age, as evidence shows this can reduce the risk of drowning.1 These swim lessons should teach children survival skills in the event of accidentally falling into water.

It is also important for parents to know how to swim as well, and it should become a family activity. However, swim lessons should serve as 1 layer of protection among other important safety tips. Multiple layers of protection are necessary for water safety, and it is extremely important for families to anticipate the risks in their homes, while traveling, and attending events. Health care providers should continuously discuss water safety tips with their patients.

Educate parents about the following water-safety tips, in addition to swim lessons:

  • Install a 4-sided pool fence at least 4 feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates that completely isolates the pool from the house and yard.
  • Children and teens should wear life jackets when boating or near open bodies of water.
  • Parents should never leave young children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas, or wading pools and when near irrigation ditches, ponds, or other open standing water. Toilet locks can help prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • Adults should empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use.
  • There should always be a designated “water watcher” that is a supervising adult with swim skills within arm’s length of infants and toddlers. This supervising adult should not be engaged in distracting activities such as texting, socializing, or drinking alcohol.
  • Parents and caregivers should be trained in CPR.
  • Water safety should be practiced while on vacation and attending parties, as drowning can occur when children are not expected to be in the pool.
  • Parents should always check the water first if their child is missing.

The Miller and Hughes families that have each suffered a high-profile loss of a child due to drowning have joined forces with the AAP to share their stories with the public in the hopes to raise awareness about the importance of water safety through social media and education.

In addition, the Hughes family created Levi’s Legacy to promote water safety after the drowning of their 3 year old son Levi, who slipped out of a room filled with adults while on vacation. Levi’s Mom had just split a brownie with him and still had the brownie in her mouth when she jumped into the pool to try and save him.


Denny SA, Quan L, Gilchrist J, et al; AAP Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics. 2019;143(5): e20190850.

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