Preventing Drowning of Young Children

Ruth McDonald, MD
Vice president, associate chief medical officer
Seattle Children’s

Among preventable injuries, drowning is the top cause of death in children ages 1 to 4. Children in this age range are three times more likely to drown than older kids.

Across the U.S., swimming pools and bathtubs are the most common hazards for children ages 1 to 4. Wells, cisterns, toilets and even buckets pose a threat to children under age 1. However, in Washington, most drownings among children of any age occur in lakes and rivers.

People often think about water safety when children are swimming – but young children often drown when no one thought they were in or near water. Parents need to be vigilant and prepared whenever water is accessible. Spring and summer in our state are critical times to educate and reinforce these strategies with families.

 Messages for parents/guardians:

  • Become water competent. This includes having water safety awareness, basic swimming skills, and knowledge of how to help others.
  • Prevent unsupervised access to water. Assess potential risks inside, outside, and near your home and any other locations your child visits. This includes other people’s homes, hotels or campgrounds. Childproof your surroundings accordingly.
    • Install and maintain four-sided barriers around pools and other bodies of water.
    • Empty all bathtubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools immediately after use. Store items that can collect water upside down.
  • Designate a water watcher — supervision could save a life. Supervise while not distracted or using drugs or alcohol.
    • Be within an arm’s reach of young children or non-swimmers.
    • Never leave a young child unattended in or around water. Even in the bathtub. Even for a moment.
    • Young children should wear a life jacket when in, on or near water. Learn to fit and choose appropriate-sized United States Coast Guard approved life jackets.
  • Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills. These can save a life when there is an emergency.