Few parents realize that children can die in a pool or hot tub by getting sucked down and trapped in a drain. A child's hair or bathing suit can also get stuck. Since 1985, 34 kids under age 15 have died and 130 have been injured in accidents like this, reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
In 2002, 7-year-old Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, became entrapped by a hot-tub drain when she was at a graduation party with her mom, Nancy, and her four sisters. Nancy jumped into the water and tried to pull Graeme out, but the suction was too strong. "I was in a panic and kept coming up for air, yelling for help," recalls Nancy, of McLean, Virginia. It took two men to finally free Graeme, but she didn't survive. Graeme's horrifying death has driven her mother to lobby for mandatory safety standards for drains.
Protect your child by making sure that any pool or hot tub she uses has anti-entrapment drain covers. It should also have at least two drains for each pump, which will reduce the powerful suction if one drain is blocked, says Dr. Shenoi. Single-drain pools, hot tubs, whirlpools, and spas should have safety vacuum-release systems, which automatically release the suction if a drain is blocked. Watch your child closely and make sure she doesn't swim or play near drains. Tie her hair back or have her wear a bathing cap, and make sure her swimsuit fits snugly, with no loose ties.
The bottom line is that drowning is almost always preventable, emphasizes Dr. Eichelberger. "Whenever you're in or near the water, you should be able to reach out and touch your child. Sadly, when a child drowns or is disabled after a near-drowning, parents have to live with the fact that they could have done something to protect him. You never want to be in that position."
Is Your Child Taking Swimming Lessons This Summer?
Kids are generally not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons until age 4, according to the AAP. Studies show that starting lessons earlier doesn't help kids learn to swim faster, doesn't lower their risk of drowning, and may give parents a false sense of security. (The AAP doesn't object to classes for babies and toddlers in which parents are also in the water.)
"Your child needs to be ready both physically and mentally," says Thomas Heneghan, a water-safety expert at the American Red Cross, in Washington, D.C. "He needs to have a certain amount of strength and coordination to be able to get in and out of a pool, take direction from the instructor, wait his turn, and cooperate with other children."
Look for a program that has certified instructors and groups kids according to their abilities. It's best for your child to take lessons every year to refresh her skills and learn new ones, but don't let her comfort in the water make you lax about safety. "If a child panics, the skills she's learned may not come back to her," Heneghan says.