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

Written by | Updated August 24, 2020

If you’re going to have fun in the sun with your little ones this season, makes sure you prep for water emergencies. You need to have a plan of action ready to go in seconds, whether you’re alerting a lifeguard or going to the hospital.

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.

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

Reacting: What to do if your child goes underwater in distress

Keeping 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 slipping underwater undetected.

But if they do slip underwater, remember the following tips:


1. Alert a lifeguard

If there’s a lifeguard on duty, alert them immediately. Lifeguards have the training to rescue children from the water quickly and effectively. A lifeguard can also administer CPR if necessary.

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 rescue—even if the kids 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.

Prevention: How to protect your child from drowning hazards

It takes minutes for a child to lose consciousness underwater—less for an infant. Because these situations 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.
  • Learn CPR: If your child’s heart stops in a near-drowning incident, it’s critical to 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 as young as 12 months may begin swimming lessons immediately. 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 30–60 minutes after a meal.
  • Kids shouldn’t swim in cold water too long: When the body drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, brain functions and muscle responses become slower. Have your kids take lots of breaks outside of the water to help their bodies regulate temperature if the water is close to 70 degrees.
  • 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 in dangerous conditions.
  • Teach your kids about water safety: You can’t teach a newborn about water safety, but if your kids are two and older, you can start talking about it. Make sure your children know never to swim without an adult, and tell them not to go near the pool without supervision.
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Final word

Above all, try to stay aware and watchful whenever your children play in water.

If you worry about young kids sneaking into the pool alone, consider investing in waterproof GPS wearables for kids. Select models allow you to set location boundaries, around your pool for instance, and can alert you when a child crosses that line. It may take some time to set up, but your children’s safety is more than worth it.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts,” April 2016. Accessed July 30, 2020.
  2. Ruth A. Brenner, Gitanjali Saluja Taneja, Denise L. Haynie, Ann C. Trumble, Cong Qian, Ron M. Klinger, Mark A. Klebanoff, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “Association between Swimming Lessons and Drowning in Childhood: A Case-Control Study,” March 2009. Accessed July 30, 2020.