Tips for keeping kids safe around water

May 29, 2013 

We know water is everywhere in Thurston County. And it is great fun for the whole family, especially kids. It also is a place where safety must come first, so here I offer a few tips for kids who love to get wet.

The hard fact is that drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children between 1 and 4 years old. Moreover, it is the third leading cause of death among children of all ages.

The main form of prevention: Always watch your child around water. We know it sounds strict, but there is no room for compromise on this one. Put the cell phone away, forget about all the other things you have to do, and give young children 100 percent of your attention when they are near water. This is an adult job. There are too many double tragedies that have occurred when an older child was put in charge and both drown.

Babies and children can drown in as little as one inch of water. Empty all tubs, buckets, containers, and wading pools immediately after use. Store them upside down and out of children’s reach.

Always have your children wear life jackets approved by the U.S. Coast Guard while they are on boats, around bodies of water, or when participating in water sports. Make sure the life jacket is sized correctly by checking the manufacturer’s label. There are even life jackets for infants and toddlers. Check to be sure that the life jacket fits snugly. Have kids make a “touchdown” signal by raising both arms straight up; if the life jacket hits a child’s chin or ears, it may be too big, or the straps may be too loose. Pull up on the tops of the arm openings to be sure the life jacket does not ride up over the child’s face or head.

If you bring a baby onto a boat, make sure they wear their own life jacket. Hold on to your baby while also wearing your own life jacket, rather than putting an infant in a car seat. If the boat were to capsize, the seat would sink instantly.

Remember that swimming aids such as water wings or noodles are fun toys, but they should never be used in place of a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

Infants and young kids are at a higher risk for hypothermia, so if you are taking a small person on a boat, also take a few extra precautions to keep them warm. If your children seem cold or are shivering, wrap them tightly in a dry blanket or towel. And don’t forget sun screen on a sunny day.

Thurston County Safe Kids (www.safekidsthurstoncounty.org) is continuing to build more life jacket loaner boards to support water safety and drowning prevention. The concept is to place loaner life jackets at water access sites for people to use and then return. Go to the Seattle Children’s Water Safety and Drowning Prevention Program website (www.seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/community-programs/drowning-prevention/) for all the locations of life jacket loaner boards in Thurston County and throughout the state. You’ll also find a 25 percent off coupon to purchase a life jacket. Dr. Diana T. Yu is the Health Officer for Thurston and Mason counties. Reach her at 360-867-2501, yud@co.thurston.wa.us or on Twitter @yu4health.

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