An MGH pediatric trauma expert shares tips to keep your child from drowning.

During the summer season we want to remind parents to be vigilant in supervising their children at pools and beaches to prevent drownings.

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Drowning Prevention Q&A

Childhood drowning is a top cause of death in children in Massachusetts. From 2008-2012, 50 Massachusetts children between the ages 1 and 5 died as a result of an injury. Drowning accounted for 23% of these unintentional deaths. Furthermore, we see many cases at MassGeneral Hospital for Children of near drowning. Drowning remains a major concern in our state.

What are the most important things parents can do to prevent drowning or near drowning?

The most important things that parents can do to keep their children safe around water are to make sure that their children learn to swim and make sure that they swim only in designated swimming areas. Parents or guardians should also learn to swim and should never – even for a moment – leave small children alone near any body of water (even a bathtub). With infants and toddlers and inexperienced swimmers, an adult should be within arm’s length of the child. It is possible for a small child to drown in only a few inches of water.

The fact that drowning is often silent and happens quickly is surprising to many people.

Older children, who are better swimmers, should always swim with a buddy and an adult should be focused on the child. If parents have a pool in their back yard, they need to make sure they have a gate with a lock around the pool so a child cannot access it without supervision. I would also encourage parents to learn CPR.

What is the most common misconception about drowning?

The fact that drowning is often silent and happens quickly is surprising to many people. The movies often show a person splashing or screaming for help. In real life, that often does not happen. A child can quickly go under the water in a pool or lake or be pulled away by a powerful current in the ocean. Unfortunately, there may be no call for “help” so parents must watch their children closely near the water. When a child is missing, check the water first.

Why does the issue of drowning continue to be such a problem in Massachusetts?

People often feel that they or their children are safe in or around the water and let their guard down. This is one of the reasons that these accidents occur.

Are there concerns related to drowning and adolescents?

Adolescents are more likely to drown in open waters than in backyard pools and alcohol use has been shown to be a factor in 25% – 50% of adolescent and adult drownings. Alcohol and water sports do not mix. You should talk to your teenager about this.

Any other tips for parents?

Enjoy the pools and beaches this summer, but be sure to carefully watch your children.

For more information about MassGeneral Hospital for Children, please contact us.

Peter T. Masiakos, MD
Peter T. Masiakos, MD, is the director of the MassGeneral for Children Pediatric Trauma Division and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Masiakos is also a leader of the MGH Trauma Injury Prevention and Outreach Program. This program applies evidenced-based approaches to prevent injuries to children and adults and advocates for policies to improve the health and safety of our communities.