Make a Safe Splash with the Kids

pool safety

Your guide to keeping children protected in and around the water this summer 

By Grace Silipigni

Sun-kissed skin, salty hair, and the endless allure of the ocean—life in a coastal community is a dream for many. But for parents, that dream comes with a healthy dose of responsibility, especially when it comes to keeping little ones safe in the water. As the beaches and pools beckon to us, ensuring kids can enjoy the waters confidently and safely becomes top priority.    

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to four. Swimming pools prove to be the most high-risk area, contributing to roughly 40% of all water-related fatalities for children ages five to 14. Even non-drowning accidents can result in permanent disability for young swimmers 

Educating novice swimmers is the first step to preventing water-related incidents. We spoke with Lynnhaven Dive Center’s Stacey McGill, swim school director, and Sandi Womack, director of operations, to get an inside scoop on best practices. Both women are proud to serve the local community by spreading awareness about swim safety in and around the water. See there responses below. 

Is there an ideal age for children to learn how to swim? Children are never too young or too old to learn how to swim. We start working with children as young as six months and have two-year-olds in the water without a parent. We do believe at 15 months old, however, that children start to retain more information during their weekly swim lessons.  

There are all types of flotation devices novice swimmers use. Which are the safest and which should be avoided? Coast Guard-approved life jackets are the safest for any swimmer around water. Puddle jumpers are dangerous because they give a false sense of security to your swimmer.  

How do you prepare children for emergency situations in the water? We actually incorporated a safety week into our swim lessons during which we ask children to come fully clothed to their lesson. We teach them what to do if they were to fall in the pool in regular clothes. We also teach children and parents about proper life jacket etiquette.   

What are some tips you can offer to parents taking their new swimmers to the beach?  Supervision is key. Never leave your child alone or take your eyes off of them, even if you think they can swim. Parents should advise their children to swim sideways with the coast and not with the current. It is also a good idea to swim in proximity to a lifeguard.  

Do’s and Don’ts of Backyard Pools 

Do install a fence around your pool. This barrier can ultimately save your child’s life. Pool covers are another great alternative to preventing a mishap. Don’t let children swim unsupervised. Watching your child swim through the back window may be convenient, but how quickly could you get to them in the event of an emergency? Do have stairs or ramps that children can easily access to safely enter and exit the pool.  Don’t leave cleaning equipment, particularly pool vacuums, in the water while swimmers are present. The cords can prove particularly dangerous for new swimmers. Do set pool rules. Children need to know the safety expectations of swimming, even in their own backyard. Don’t leave toys around or in the pool when it is not in use. You do not want children to be enticed to race near the water when an adult is not present.  

Try Dry Practice  
Swim lessons can be costly, and not everyone has access to a pool in which they can practice techniques safely. Prepare your young one by practicing these skills at home: Blow bubbles in the bathtub; Perform windmills to mimic strokes; Practice straight leg kicks while lying down; Hold your breath to practice breathing control; Watch videos of swimmers in action; and Read books about swimming, pools, beaches, etc. 

Seven Cities Swim Lessons  
From swimming basics to stroke development, Coastal Virginia is home to a number of elite swim programs designed with safety in mind. We’ve rounded up just a few. 

Lynnhaven Dive Center  
Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation 
British Swim School  
Norfolk Parks & Recreation  
Katie’s Kickers 
YMCA of South Hampton Roads  
The Kroc Center 

YMCA of the Virginia Peninsulas 
Newport News Parks & Recreation 
Hampton Virginia Aquaplex 
JBLE Aquatic Center  

PFDs on the Dock  
One area of particular concern in our region due to our proximity to so many waterways is dock safety, especially for children. Kids naturally love to explore on docks, which can be a recipe for accidental falls and even tragedy. Kids, particularly those under 12, should be wearing life jackets or properly fitting personal flotation devices while spending time on a dock.  

Grace Silipigni Headshot
Grace Silipigni

Grace Silipigni is an elementary school Spanish immersion teacher based in Virginia Beach and a regular contributor to Coastal Virginia Magazine, covering a wide range of topics such as health and wellness, education and learning, food and drink, happenings and events, travel and getaways and more.

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