Swimming Safety Guide for Babysitters
Table of Contents
If you babysit regularly, chances are you know how wonderful it is to be able to take the children in your care swimming. Not only is it an activity that almost every child enjoys, it also offers a great way for them to burn off some of their “kid” energy without running you ragged.
But you should also know that spending time in the water comes with great responsibility. After all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 14 and under make up about 20 percent of the people who die from drowning each year. So, whether you’re soaking in some summer fun at the backyard or community pool or taking a child for their lesson at the Y, you’ll need to be MORE everything--more organized, more focused, and more careful.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re preparing to take the kids swimming. This guide assembles resources, tips, articles and other advice on safety so that you can be fully prepared when you head to the pool.
First Aid Basics for the Pool
Chances are you have some knowledge of first aid. But when children are going to be around water, there are certain skills you should hone and strengthen. Read on to learn more about swimming-specific first aid basics:
Take a training course. Recommended for ages 11-15, the American Red Cross offers “babysitter’s training,” a comprehensive program which covers everything from how to interact with children to how to handle emergencies.
Watch for cramps and shivers. Just because it’s warm outside doesn’t mean the water will be. KidsHealth.org recommends that the swimming water be 82℉ - 86℉. Regardless, if you notice a child is shivering or if they’re complaining about muscle cramps, it may be too cold for them and time to get out.
Learn about water rescue. It’s important to know how to safely help a child who needs assistance so that you don’t further endanger them or yourself. The Red Cross offers courses to help you learn essential skills in water rescue.
Get CPR certified. When you’re CPR certified, you’re better able to handle emergencies that arise with the children you’re watching. The American Heart Association offers a CPR course locator to help you find a class in your area.
Know how to respond to specific emergencies. It’s important to consider the different kinds of emergencies that could occur in the water. In addition to the risk of drowning, a child or their clothing may become entrapped in or on a drain. https://www.PoolSafely.gov offers advice on how to handle these emergencies.
Know how to recognize the warning signs of drowning. In its manual on “Swimming and Water Safety,” the Red Cross provides a chart listing the behaviors to watch for in active swimmers, distressed swimmers, active drowning victims and passive drowning victims.
Have parents’/caretakers’ phone numbers handy. Be sure you have entered the parents’/caregivers’ numbers programmed into your phone or make sure the numbers are posted in an easy-to-find location before parents leave you alone with the children. Also, set up a contact plan with the parents ─ find out who should be contacted first in the case of an emergency or problem.
Know where the nearest hospital is located. Have parents or caretakers fill out this informational sheet. That way you’ll have all the information you need about the closest local hospital and how to get to it.
Understand that children who can swim should still be monitored closely. San Diego Fire-Rescue reminds that even if you’re caring for children who are good swimmers, they are not “drown-proof.” All children, regardless of age, should be watched at all times when they’re in or around the water.
Learn how to use pool safety equipment. Check to make sure the necessary safety equipment, such as a life preserver ring and a life hook, is available. If you aren’t familiar with how to use the life hook, Deanza College provides a tutorial with photos on how and when it should be used if someone is in danger.
Swim Session Before, During, and After Checklist
Having a plan and sticking to it can make your swim time with the kids run smoothly and be fun for everyone. Here is a checklist that will keep you on track and everyone safe:
Apply sunscreen. If you’re going to be outside, sunscreen is a must. The CDC recommends sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 for children. Be sure to apply it 30 minutes prior to going outdoors.
Put your cell phone on silent. It is imperative that you give the children your full attention at all times. As Safe Kids Worldwide notes, it only takes one inch of water for a baby to drown. Silencing your cell phone will help eliminate that distraction.
Make sure your phone is fully charged. That said, you may need to use your phone in the case of an emergency, so be sure it is fully charged. If parents will be calling to check in, text them to let them know where you’ll be and that you won’t be able to take the call. Then, check in with them when everyone is back indoors.
Take note of all drains, pipes, and other openings. PoolSafely.gov warns about the dangers of these openings in its “Drowning Is Preventable!” fact sheet. Whether you’re at a backyard or community pool, when you arrive, take note of these areas and be sure to keep an eye on them.
Pack snacks. Kids use up a lot of energy splashing around, which means they’ll need to refuel. Finding the right snacks for hot summer weather can be tricky. SuperHealthyKids.com offers several snack options that hold up well in sweltering temperatures and around moisture. For example, try dried fruit or peanut butter and celery.
Make sure necessities are easily accessible. SimplyRealMoms.com provides a rundown of everything you’ll want to be sure you have with you before you head out. For example, items you don’t want to forget, include towels, extra diapers/pull-ups, clothes for after (or as extra cover up if a child has gotten too much sun), and more.
Take periodic breaks. Kids will need a rest (even if they think they don’t!). So, after an hour of splashing around, get them out for a 10 - 15 minute break.
Keep them hydrated. We sweat even when we’re in the water. This article provides a suggested regimen for staying hydrated when swimming. It also cautions against drinking pool water. Keep an eye on the children you’re watching to make sure they aren’t engaging that behavior.
Provide “touch supervision” for small children. The importance of closely supervising children while they’re in and around water cannot be stressed enough. For small children (under 5 years old), EskenaziHealth.edu recommends staying “within an arm’s length” at all times.
Keep an eye on the weather. Summer storms can pop up quickly. When storm clouds roll in, it’s time to dry off. Start the process before thunder or lightning begin. The National Lightning Safety Institute also advises that you not allow the kids to dive back in “until 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard.”
Help strengthen swimming skills. If you’re babysitting a child that is old enough, use your time together to improve their swimming ability. WikiHow.com provides a ten-step tutorial.
Play a game. To keep everyone entertained, organize a game. KidSpot provides a searchable list of pool games. Using the dropdown menus find the games that are most appropriate for the age group you’re watching.
Put away toys. If a child spots a floating toy, they may be tempted to try to get it out themselves. That’s why HealthyChildren.org stresses the importance of putting all toys away once your session is over.
Take steps to prevent swimmer’s ear. This infection can be painful and uncomfortable. Mayo Clinic provides several tips for preventing it. For example, have the kids tip their heads from side to side to get out any water. Then, be sure to thoroughly dry their ears.
Make sure the fence around the pool is closed. When play time is over, make sure the gate is locked and secured. If the pool is indoors, make sure the door leading to it is locked and if there is an alarm on the door, make sure it is engaged. The Florida Department of Health provides a manual on “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools.” It may be helpful to read through it and familiarize yourself with the kind of barrier present at the home where you’ll be babysitting.
Make sure the barrier is clear of "climbable" objects. National Water Safety Month 2015 reminds that furniture or other objects need to be moved away from the pool fence. It should be tall enough and designed so that climbing it isn’t easy, but if furniture is nearby, it could be less difficult for a child to get over the barrier.
Always know where the children are. As this blog post for babysitters notes, anytime you’re at a home with a pool, it’s important that they are under your constant supervision. Keep them in your line of sight at all times. If you do lose track of a child, always check the pool first.
Remove the access ladder from above-ground pools. These safety tips offer an important reminder for homes with above-ground pools. If there is an access ladder on the outside of the pool that could be easily accessible by children, remove it so that they aren’t able to climb in.
Float On: Rules for Safe Play
The fun that comes with splashing, cannon balls, and playing Sharks and Minnows might tempt the children into some unsafe behavior. That’s why it’s important to set some rules for them ahead of time. Here are a few essentials:
Play "No Two Entries." This game from HealthyActiveKids.com serves as a fun way to teach kids safe ways to enter the pool.
Make a "no diving" rule. The East Tennessee Children’s Hospital recommends limiting diving to only the diving board and other parent-approved diving areas. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable allowing the kids to dive in while under your supervision, that is more than okay. As the article recommends, simply let them know there are “new rules” while they’re in your care.
Don’t allow running. This article provides advice on how to set water safety rules. It stresses that one rule should be to ban running in the pool area.
No pushing. Time at the pool should be fun for everyone, but as this set of safety tips notes, some forms of play are dangerous. For example, don’t allow children to push each other in, even if they’re good swimmers.
No dunking. As this article notes, dunking and forms of aggressive play should not be allowed. These activities can cause a child to choke on or inhale water, which can lead to drowning.