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Summertime Water Safety for Kids

Pools and bodies of water can be dangerous for children, but there are easy steps you can take to keep them safe

Water safety for kids

During the summertime, kids of all ages spend more time around pools and natural bodies of water, like lakes, ponds, rivers and the ocean.

While water activities offer a great way to cool off from the summer heat, it’s important to know that they can be very dangerous without proper supervision and safety guidelines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children age 1-14, and for every child who dies from drowning, another eight will need emergency care for the effects of non-fatal drowning.

“Children can begin drowning in just a few moments, and in a lot of cases, they don’t show clear signs of distress,” says pediatric emergency medicine physician Susan Yaeger, MD, with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital. “The best way to protect kids from drowning is taking preventative steps before they intentionally – or unintentionally – come in contact with a pool or other body of water.”

Whether you are a parent, guardian or an adult who may find themselves in charge of a child while near a pool or body of water, Dr. Yaeger shares some important water safety reminders:

General water safety tips

Water safety for kids

General water safety tips

  • When buying a swimsuit for your child, consider brighter colors that stand out more in the water.
  • Children must always be supervised when they are around or swimming in pools, lakes, rivers, streams or the ocean. It only takes a few moments for accidents to happen, and drowning can take place in as little as one inch of water.
  • When visiting a pool or natural body of water, children should be encouraged to follow all rules and only go in areas designated for swimming.
  • When participating in water sports or spending time on boats, kids should always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device.
  • Children should not be allowed to swim during stormy weather or at night.
  • To prevent injury (including loss of consciousness), kids should always jump into new bodies of water feet first instead of diving in.
  • Swim lessons are essential, but skill level varies. Many children who drowned in pools reportedly knew how to swim.

Pool safety tips

  • Never let children near the pool unattended.
  • Install barriers, like four-sided pool fencing, to prevent children from accessing it while adults aren’t there.
  • Make sure your pool has built-in safety devices (such as raised drain covers, multiple drains and safety vacuum release devices) to help prevent entrapment.
  • Consider installing an alarm to alert you when someone is near the pool or in the water.
  • Store pool toys and other items that might attract children out of sight when they aren’t being used.

Beach safety tips

When visiting a beach:

  • Never allow children to swim without adult supervision (even if they are good swimmers).
  • Be aware of the day’s weather, surf and undertow conditions.
  • Only bring your children to beaches that are patrolled by lifeguards.


  • Watching your child in the water is your responsibility, even when there’s a lifeguard present. A lifeguard’s job is to enforce rules, scan, rescue and resuscitate.
  • Drowning is silent. There can be very little splashing, waving or screaming.
  • Drowning is quick. Once a child begins to struggle, you may have less than a minute to react.

What to do if your child almost drowns

If your child experiences a near drowning, it’s important to determine if they need emergency care as quickly as possible.

“If your child is exhibiting an altered level of consciousness, difficulty breathing or a change in their color, they should be evaluated by emergency medical services and transported to an emergency room,” Dr. Yaeger says. “A near-drowning can cause pneumonia, a lung injury, or in some cases, brain damage.”

However, if your child is awake, aware of their surroundings and breathing comfortably, they can be monitored at home instead for signs of excessive fluid in their lungs. While monitoring their breathing, an adult can encourage the child to cough and pat them on the back to help them clear their lungs.

“In most cases, kids will cough until they have expelled or absorbed the fluid that is irritating their lungs,” Dr. Yaeger says. “However, if their cough persists for more than six hours or they start having trouble breathing, you should take them to the ER for evaluation.”

Pediatric trauma expertise at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital

The clinicians at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital are no strangers to near drownings, and the staff at Breidegam Family Children’s ER are specially equipped to support children who have been involved in these accidents.

“Our Children's ER is staffed by the only board-certified and fellowship trained pediatric emergency medicine physicians in the Lehigh Valley, and we see several near-drowning cases each year,” Dr. Yaeger says. “However, it’s important for adults to know that they can take precautionary steps around pools and natural bodies of water that can prevent these accidents from happening in the first place.”

breidegam childrens er

Emergency Care Just for Kids

The Breidegam Family Children’s ER at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest is the region’s only 24/7 emergency room dedicated to children. From the waiting room to our treatment areas, our facility has been designed with kids in mind.

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