by Lisa Armony
Pool parties are a great way for kids to have fun while beating the heat. But with children drowning in backyard pools every year, it’s critical for party hosts to set ground rules early.
Kids love the water, but often don’t think about the consequences of their actions in or around the pool. Telling them which behaviors are forbidden before they jump in can prevent accidents and keep the party fun and safe.
“Before we even open the gate, we say no running and wait for an adult,” says parent Ann-Marie Haun, who hosts pool parties for her three children, all under age 7.
Her pool rules include no running on the deck, no grabbing onto anyone else in the pool and no jumping from the diving board until the child ahead of you has jumped in and reached the side of the pool.
“If children are caught breaking the rules, they are given a warning,” she says. “If they do it again, they have to get out of the water and sit on a timeout.”
Constant adult supervision is the key to a safe pool party. “A momentary lapse of supervision is the main factor of how, when and why kids drown,” says Nadina Riggsbee, president of the nonprofit Drowning Prevention Foundation. “The bottom line is, if you are going to have a gathering, you need to have a qualified adult sit by the water, never leaving, until they have a replacement. That is the best and only answer.”
Most safety advocates recommend assigning supervisors to 15- or 20-minute intervals. Host parents who are busy serving food, organizing games or socializing with guests cannot responsibly watch the pool. Adults who are strong swimmers and proficient in CPR, and who can maintain complete focus on the pool – without cell phone calls, side conversations, drinking or other distractions – should be assigned instead. This holds true whether children are playing in deep or shallow water, and regardless of children’s ages or swimming abilities.
Some parents aim for one-on-one supervision. Since the kids at their pool parties typically are young, the Haun family makes sure a parent or designated adult stays with each child in the water. If the adult gets out, he needs to assign someone else or take the child with him.
Some local parents hire lifeguards to ensure proper supervision, a practice recommended by the American Red Cross. Be sure your lifeguard has appropriate certification through an accredited water safety organization and current training in CPR and first aid, says Eugene Bivol, a Red Cross water safety instructor.
While there are no precise guidelines for the number of guests who can safely be in the pool, the more kids in the water, the more lifeguards or adult supervisors are needed.
When the swimming is over, account for each child and always check the water first if a child is missing. Lock the fence around the pool and move activities away from it.
“You don’t have to be swimming for an accident to happen, because kids are attracted to the water,” says Riggsbee of the Drowning Prevention Foundation. “They will keep going to the water until they get to it, so as long as there is water, someone has to be watching it.”
Toys and Games
Swimming games and toys keep the excitement going, but should be safe and suited to kids’ swimming levels. Kids at the Haun’s pool love to pile onto rafts, but they’re not allowed to flip them over onto other swimmers.
Younger kids love to race to collect floating balls, while older kids can retrieve sunken coins. Another fun game is “Colors,” where each child waits at poolside until he hears the color that he has silently chosen called out by the child who is “it.” He then tries to reach the other side before being tagged.
Games like “Marco Polo” and water tag work well for kids who can stand safely in the pool.
Diving, breath-holding contests, roughhousing and throwing kids in the pool should not be included, nor should games that require many floating devices that can obstruct the view of the pool.
In an Emergency
Having the right safety equipment on hand saves critical minutes if a child becomes submerged. The American Red Cross recommends keeping poles, ropes and personal flotation devices poolside. A cordless phone (not a cell phone that can lose reception) with programmed emergency numbers should be within reach of adults watching the pool.
If a child begins to drown, act fast. One adult should call 911, while another pulls the child out of the water and begins CPR if necessary. Time saved before paramedics arrive can mean the difference between life and death.
Pool owners with small children should install five-foot or higher fencing on all four sides with self-closing and -locking gates, Riggsbee’s organization states.
Another key safety device is an anti-entrapment drain cover. Since 1987, nearly 150 children have drowned when their hair or body parts became trapped in the powerful suction of pool and spa drains. While a new federal law requires that all public pools install safety drain covers and back-up devices that reduce suction, the Pool Safety Council recommends that residential pool owners do so as well.
Children should be instructed to stay away from drains and to tie back long hair to prevent entanglement. Supervising adults should know how to shut off the drain system if a child gets caught.
Learn to Swim
Teaching kids to swim and to make good water judgments, like never swimming alone, goes a long way toward keeping them safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently changed its recommendation that children wait until age 4 to begin formal swim lessons. The pediatricians previously believed that younger children weren’t developmentally ready, and that swimming lessons might even create a false sense of security for their parents.
But new research indicates that kids who take lessons as early as age 1 do learn techniques that can prevent drowning. Consider signing up for swimming class before the next pool party. Playing it safe will ensure that this summer’s pool parties are a cool experience for everyone.
Lisa Armony is a freelance writer and a mom. Angela Geiser, a former editor with Dominion Parenting Media, contributed to this report.
A Word on Pool Etiquette
We all appreciate the neighbors who invite our kids over to swim in their pools. Yet sometimes the behavior of the invited guests can send these nice people off the deep end. For starters, asks one pool owner who wants to remain anonymous, why do people think it’s OK to let their kids run into the house dripping wet to use the bathroom?
Well, it’s not. Besides being rude, it’s also a dangerous slipping hazard.
Jodi R.R. Smith, a Marblehead resident and author of The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners (Sterling Publishing, 2011), says she could write a whole book about pool and beach etiquette.
Here are her top pieces of advice to help ensure that pool guests get invited back:
Bring your own supplies – towels, sunscreen, goggles, water bottles and snacks.
Guests should arrive with swimsuits already on, under cover-ups. And at the other end, guests should not expect to shower and/or change before going home.
If you must use the restroom, ask permission first, and dry off before trekking indoors.
Swim diapers are not waterproof. If the host asks that non-potty trained children remain out of the pool, guests must respect these wishes. (In case of an accident, sanitizing chemicals must be added to the pool, preventing everyone else from enjoying the water.)
If possible, the parents might want to bring a small kiddie pool for the youngest of children to get wet without impacting the big pool.
Do not overstay your welcome.
If the invitation has been issued for the season, be sure to bring gifts for your hosts every few visits to show that you’re appreciative.
As parents, never presume that anyone else is watching your child. The invitation was to use the pool, not for free babysitting.
For the hosts
Be very specific with your invitation – what to bring and what time to arrive/what time to depart, etc.
Be clear that the parent is still responsible for the child.
For pool parties with many children, hire a certified lifeguard to help watch those in the pool while you are attending to host duties.
Five Questions to Ask Before Attending a Pool Party
1. What are the ground rules around the pool? Go over these with your child before he enters the water.
2. What supervision will be provided? Ask whether there will be a lifeguard or whether qualified adults will watch the pool.
3. Are all pool watchers skilled in CPR and rescue techniques?
4. What activities will take place in the pool? Be sure your child won’t be asked to do things beyond his swimming level.
5. Where will the children be after they finish swimming? The pool area should be locked when kids are out of the pool.