"Swimmin'! Mama, I swim!" my son, an exuberant 22-month-old screamed into my ear on Saturday as I carried him toward the backyard pool at my dad's house.
"You have to hold onto Mama and follow directions," I told him, as we walked down the steps and waded into the shallow end. But you can't reason with a not-even-two-year-old. In no time he was squirming, and then full-blown flailing. "Mama, Joey swim! Joey swim!!" He wanted to splash around like he does in the bathtub. But when it comes to the pool and rough housing, I have a one-strike and you're out rule. Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death in children ages 1 to 4—my son's demographic—and I refuse to take any chances.
I've always been strict about swimming safety, but I've raised my standards even higher since I started working on the heart-wrenching drowning story in Parents' July issue, out now. In it, writer Kate Lawler tells the tragic tale of Kyan Quintana, a 2-year-old boy who drowned in his own backyard pool when he fell out of a flotation ring. His mother had been watching him, but her view was somewhat obstructed. Kyan's parents founded a charity, Kyan's Kause, in 2013, to fund swimming instruction and more in their home of South Florida. I urge you to donate—but more than that, I urge you to set up safeguards and be vigilant.
More than 600 children drown every year, and summer is a prime time for it. Just in the last few days, our nation has needlessly lost an 11-year-old boy, a 13-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl to drowning in apartment complex pools, and a 1-year-old girl to drowning in a plastic pool in her backyard. All of these deaths were preventable one way or another—through swimming instruction, safety fencing, or parents attentively watching. That last one is the most effective safety measure, but it can also be the trickiest; observing kids at the pool or beach isn't particularly exciting, and it's easy to get distracted.
So how can you stay attentive, and have back-up precautions in place in case your eyes wander? Our article (you can read some of it here) outlines all the dos and don'ts, and the print version goes into even greater detail—revealing essential pool and hot tub safety measures, and how to avoid hidden dangers inside your home.
My main takeaway: When you're a parent, there's no such thing as relaxing by the pool. We're all lifeguards now—and our kids need us to take our jobs seriously.
Julia Edelstein is the senior health editor at Parents.