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What Should I Do If My Child Slips Under the Water?

Written by | Updated October 12, 2018

Water safety for kids starts with proactive measures and swift response to water emergencies. People—especially kids and babies—can drown in as little as an inch of water in a matter of minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 3,500 people accidentally drown each year in America, and one in five of those are children age 14 or younger.1 That’s why water safety for kids is so important. You need to have a plan of action, from alerting a lifeguard to going to the hospital, ready to go in seconds.

Follow these measures, both reactive and proactive, to save your child if they slip under water and to reduce the likelihood of such an incident altogether.

What to Do If Your Child Goes Underwater in Distress

Maintaining a watchful eye on your kids when they’re in the bath, at the pool, or near any body of water will prevent your child from ever slipping underwater undetected. But if they do slip underwater, remember the following tips.

  1. Alert a Lifeguard
    If a lifeguard is on duty, alert them immediately. Lifeguards have the training to rescue children from the water quickly and effectively. If your child needs CPR, a lifeguard will also be able to administer that.
  2. Act Quickly
    If there aren’t any certified lifeguards on duty, spring into action. Call to a parent or another child who’s closest to where your child went under or get in there yourself. Once you pull your child out, see if they’re conscious and breathing. If they’re coughing, give them a few good pats on the back to help them clear water from their lungs. If they aren’t breathing, call 911.
  3. Go to the Hospital
    Delayed drowning issues, like secondary and dry drowning, can affect babies and children after they’re rescued from the water—even if they seem completely normal. Call your doctor after any incident to ensure your kids are safe, and take them to the hospital if anything seems amiss.

How to Keep Your Child from Drowning

It takes just minutes for a child to lose consciousness underwater—less for an infant. Because these situations can happen so fast, prevention is the best route. Here’s how to keep your child out of danger in the water.

  • Stay Close: Accompany your children in the water and stay by their side. This makes it easier for you to grab them if they need help.
  • Take a Water Safety Course: Drowning—especially with kids and babies—isn’t necessarily theatrical. Taking a water safety course can help you recognize the signs of a child struggling in the water.
  • Get CPR Certified: Since your child’s heart may stop in a near-drowning incident, it’s critical you administer CPR immediately. Most local fire, health, and police departments offer free CPR training courses, or you can look up American Heart Association training centers and courses near you.
  • Sign Your Kids Up for Swimming Lessons: Children may begin swimming lessons as soon as they turn 1. One study reports that formal swimming lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88%.2 Search the local YMCA or your town events for swimming programs and sign your kids up.
  • Restrict Swimming After Eating: Kids have fast metabolisms, but swimming right after eating may lead to cramps and drowning. Play it safe and keep your kids out of the water for thirty minutes to an hour after meals.
  • Don’t Let Kids Swim in Cold Water: When the body drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it can result in slowed brain function and muscle response. If the water is close to 70 degrees, make sure to have your kids take lots of breaks outside of the water to help their bodies regulate temperature.
  • Beware of Currents: Riptides and rip currents are strong forces beneath the surface of the ocean that pull water—and anything that’s in it—away from shore. Always read the surf report before heading to the beach, and never let kids go in the water if it’s deemed dangerous.
  • Teach Your Kids about Water Safety: You won’t be able to teach a newborn about water safety, but if your kids are 2 and older, you can start talking about it with them. Make sure your children know never to swim without an adult, and tell them not to go near the pool without supervision.

Above all, try to stay aware and watchful whenever your children play in water. And if you’re worried about young kids sneaking into the pool while you’re not looking, consider investing in waterproof GPS wearables for your children—select models allow you to set up location perimeters, around your pool for instance, and will notify you when that line is crossed. It may take some time to get that set up, but your children’s safety is more than worth it.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Association between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood