Water Safety for Young Children


  • Most toddlers are naturally attracted to and intrigued by water!
    • However, they do not understand that water can be dangerous and are not old enough yet to do what is needed when in trouble. 
  • Drowning risk is higher in toddlerhood than in any other age group.
    • Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury–related death in US children 1 through 4 years of age.
  • The biggest drowning threat facing families with toddlers is unexpected, unsupervised access to water
    • For example, 69% of all drownings among children age 4 and younger happen during non-swim times. 
  • Parents may think that if their child falls in the water they will hear lots of splashing and noise and they will be able to get to their child. 
    • In most cases, children slip under quickly and in silence. 
  • Supervision and a life jacket are two of the most important things you can provide to protect your child from drowning.

In the Home

  • Babies and young children can drown in as little as 2 inches of water. 
    • Bathtubs, toilets, dog bowls, and large buckets can pose drowning risk. 
  • Always watch toddlers when in the bathroom!
  • Keep the bathroom door closed. 
    • As an added layer of safety, use safety latches or door knob covers to keep bathrooms closed.
  • Never leave a baby or toddler alone or in the care of another young child while in the bathtub, pool, spa or wading pool.
  • Bath seats can tip over and cause a baby to slip out. Only use them with close adult supervision.
  • Store buckets empty and out of reach when not in use.

In the Yard

  • Keep garbage cans covered.
  • Store buckets and coolers empty and out of reach.
  • Avoid having a garden pond, bird bath, or fountain. 
    • If you do have one, put a fence around it to keep your child away.
  • Empty baby/wading pools when not in use. 
  • Fence around wells and secure septic tanks.

In and Near the Water

  • Start good water safety habits early, while it’s easier.
  • Put your child in a life jacket when playing in or near the water, on a dock or in a boat, raft or inner tube.
  • In all types of water, stay within touching distance of your child at all times.
  • At social events, take turns with other adults being the “water watchers” to watch children in or near the water.
  • While watching children near water, adults must keep constant focus on the children and avoid doing things that could distract you such as talking, drinking alcohol, reading or looking at your phone.
  • Buy a life jacket for your child. 
    • There may not always be one to rent or borrow. 
    • Check the label to make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Infant and toddler water classes promote water safety and play, but they do not replace supervision! 
  • Teach your child to wait for your “OK” before getting into the water.
  • Choose areas with lifeguards for swimming and playing. 
    • Even with a lifeguard, you will need to watch closely.
  • Water wings, rafts or plastic rings are not designed to keep swimmers safe. 
    • Never use them in place of a life jacket.

If You Have a Pool or Hot Tub

  • Mishaps can happen just outside your door, so use many layers of safety to protect your child. 
    • These include barriers, fencing, alarms, safety covers and rescue gear.
  • All pools pose a drowning risk. 
    • Soft-sided inflatable pools have the same risks as in-ground pools. 
    • Young children can get into them with ease and have trouble getting out.
  • Enclose pools on all 4 sides with a fence at least 4 feet high and an entrance that has a self-closing, self-latching gate. 
    • Make sure the fence is hard to climb to further prevent a child from getting in without help. 
    • Get detailed guidelines on fencing from poolsafely.gov.
  • Add a power safety cover, alarms on doors leading to the pool, and a pool alarm. 
    • Safety covers are not a substitute for a fence.
  • Learn infant and child CPR.
  • Cover hot tubs when not in use.
  • Use drain covers, safety vacuum release systems (SVRSs) or filter pumps with multiple drains to prevent children from getting entrapped in drains.
  • If your child has long hair, use hair bands to keep hair away from the suction drain covers.
  • Keep a phone right by the pool. 
    • Add emergency phone numbers to your contacts and post the numbers near the pool as well.
  • Keep rescue gear such as a life buoy, life jackets and a reach tool (shepherd’s crook) next to the pool.
  • Remove toys from in and around the pool when it is not in use. 
    • Toys attract children to the pool!
  • Prevent your child from going outside unnoticed:
    • Use safety gates, door locks or doorknob covers to prevent your toddler from going outside or into your garage unnoticed. 
    • Make sure siblings and all other family members know to always close the door behind them so younger children don't follow them out.

On Vacation

  • Vacations often happen in places where children have access to pools, hot tubs and open water.
  • Bring your family’s life jackets on vacation.
  • The change in routines makes it easy for a child to slip away unnoticed. 
    • Keep young children in sight at all times when water is nearby.
  • If a child is missing, check the pool first!

Swim Lessons

The AAP recommends swim lessons for all children, and their parents, as another layer of water safety. Here's how we think about swim lessons for different age groups: 

First 12 Months

  • We don't recommend ISR (Infant Self-Rescue) or other infant swim programs for babies in the first year of life, because currently there's no evidence that these programs lower the risk of drowning. 
  • However, it's perfectly reasonable to enroll in a parent-child water play class to help them get used to being in a pool.
    • These water play classes can be a lot of fun!

1 to 4 Years Old

  • Recent studies suggest that water survival skills training and swim lessons can help reduce drowning risk for children between ages 1-4. 
  • Every child develops motor skills at different ages, so if they seem ready go for it!

4 Years and Older

  • Every child should start swim lessons on their 4th birthday if they haven't started already. 
  • This is an evidence-based method for drowning prevention.