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It happened so fast my eyes didn’t even process what I was seeing. My 3-year-old daughter — the love of my life — had slipped and ended up face down in the baby pool. I was standing just a few feet away. Fortunately, the lifeguard knew what he was looking at and alerted me. My little girl was safe in the end. My heart, pumping double-time, probably didn’t settle down for another day or two.
Most parents with little ones will experience a pool emergency at some point. If we’re not lucky, extremely vigilant, or both, a close call can turn into a full-blown tragedy in the blink of an eye.
This isn’t irrational parent fear talking. About 400 kids drown in pools every year. The majority of those deaths happen in swimming pools at homes, not at the local swim club. Three-quarters of those residential drownings are children 5 years old and younger.1 If the hair on the back of your neck is standing up reading those stats, here’s what you can do to make sure it never happens to you.
Toddler Safety Myth Buster: Kids and floaties are pure cuteness, but floaties are easy to puncture and they can slip off little arms easily. Worst of all, parents tend to pay less attention to kids in floaties, assuming they’re safe. Ditch the floaties and try a U.S. Coast Guard–approved kiddie life vest instead.
This is more of a reminder than a pointer, but it’s extremely important.
Having your eyes open isn’t always enough to make you a good daddy or mommy lifeguard (as my own story above amply illustrates). When it’s pool time, you have to be 100 percent present — not listening to a podcast, enveloped in a three-way conversation, or running to your pool chair to grab the sunscreen.
I probably don’t have to say it, but that means never letting your child take a dip for even a minute unless an adult who can swim is around and attentive.
Staying vigilant — being there, being present — is hands down your best defense against kiddie pool accidents, and it doesn’t cost a dime.
FYI: Do you have an above-ground pool? Stow the ladder when you’re not around. Ladders are open invitations to little pool-bound feet.
Most children don’t share your adult swimming fears. The more curious among them may even try to take a dip when you’re not around. If your pool has no fence, there’s literally nothing standing between your child and a preventable tragedy. Pool safety tip No. 2: fence off your pool, mom and dad.
Keep in mind that your fence needs to be child-proof. It should be at least 4 feet high, with no big gaps between the slats. It should also close by itself with a self-locking latch. According to national building code, the latch should be at least 54 inches high.2
If you’re thinking of economizing in the fence department, we don’t recommend it. Chain-link fences are too flimsy for pools, and they’re more easily scaled by little feet. Solid wood is a safer bet.
Did You Know? Your child is 83 percent less likely to drown in a pool with a fence isolating it from the rest of the yard on all four sides.3
Plenty of families have home security systems in some shape or form. Maybe it’s just a video doorbell or a wireless camera at the front door you rigged yourself. Maybe it’s a professionally installed ADT security system with all the bells and whistles. Whatever your setup, few of the best names in the home security business offer much in the way of pool protection even if all the components are theoretically there.
I’ve visited threads online where folks with home security systems discuss the pros and cons of custom-rigging an indoor motion sensor to a pool fence. But I don’t recommend MacGyvering here. Indoor sensors aren’t water-resistant, and they’re likely too far away from your base station to give you any peace of mind.
On the other hand, you could install an outdoor camera to watch your pool. Any of these top-rated outdoor home security cameras, which are all DIY, would do the trick. The AI isn’t perfect yet, but many cameras can now pick out a pet or small child. If they do, you’ll get an alert on your phone that little Denzel has toddled into the danger zone.
Otherwise, you’ll have to look into an underwater motion detector if you want something specifically designed for pools. These sensors go right in the water and work with sonar. The second they detect an object (as light as 15 pounds) hit the water, they sound the alarm.
Did You Know? Blow-up pools (aka splash pools) are a great way for little kids to cool down in the summer heat, but they can be just as dangerous as traditional pools. Exercise the same amount of vigilance when your preschoolers are throwing a splash fest.
What if you followed our three tips — you’re with your children at all times while they’re swimming, you’re on your toes, and you’ve done all you can to keep the pool off limits when you’re not around — but an accident still happens. What’s your plan? You must have a plan.
Here’s what we recommend.
First, process what you see. I say this from experience. Your first reaction to your child struggling in water might be: “They’re just having fun.” Uh-uh. Consider that any child 5 and under face down in a pool or thrashing about may be in trouble.
Second, get your child out of the water (without endangering yourself). Having a rescue device like a ring buoy or a reaching pole nearby may come in handy.
If worse comes to worst and your child isn’t breathing when you retrieve them, give them CPR on the spot. If they don’t come around quickly, call EMS immediately.
Pro Tip: If your child isn’t breathing after a pool accident, administering CPR can double or even triple their survival rate. But CPR techniques are different for kids. If you’re going to add CPR to your home safety quiver, you’ll need to take a class in CPR for babies and children.
Stepping into a pool is the ultimate summer fun for little kids. Fun for kids, unfortunately, comes with plenty of strings attached for parents. While the tykes are playing, you have to have your ears pricked for danger — even if what you want the most is just to relax.
Parents also have to take the necessary precautions to batten down pools, and we have to know how to respond to accidents in a flash. That means the right kind of fence and the right safety equipment, and maybe even a camera or alarm. Taking a class in baby and child CPR is also really smart.
The good news is that if you take these steps, you’re cutting down the risk of pool tragedies to practically nil. The statistics bear it out. And what greater peace of mind is there than knowing you're keeping your little ones out of harm’s way while they’re having the time of their lives?
FYI: Pool safety is just one facet of summer home safety parents with little kids should be on top of. Check out our recently updated summer safety guide for the whole picture.
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2022, Jun 9). CPSC Report Shows Fatal Child Drownings Remain High; Nonfatal Drowning Injuries Spiked by 17 Percent in 2021.
BOCA National Building Code. (1999, May 1). Barriers and Fencing for Swimming Pools.
The ZAC Foundation. (1999, May 1). Swimming Pool Safety.