Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How To Keep Your Kids Safe Around Pools & Lakes

Growing up, I learned to swim just by practicing in the lake at our cottage. As a result, I can swim, but I don't have a high level of confidence in my abilities. When my own children came along, I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure they were strong swimmers. When they were small, I worked with a woman whose grown son drowned while swimming in a lake with friends. I can't even imagine the nightmare of that.

Canada is such a wonderful country to live in. We are blessed with bountiful natural resources and plenty of water. Whether you swim from a dock in Muskoka, a rocky beach at Lake Erie, the Cape Breton shoreline or your own swimming pool, make sure you and your children have every possible safety advantage.

There have been close to 500 water-related fatalities in Canada each year in recent years. Here in Ontario there have been several drownings on the news this summer, including a 20-year-old Newmarket babysitter who drowned in a family pool while caring for a 4-year-old girl. Unbelievably, the little girl tried to save her babysitter before calling 911 herself. The article quotes Shelley Makepeace, a lifeguard representative with the Canadian Red Cross, who says that no matter who is swimming, there should always be an adult inside or outside the pool watching. Non-swimmers should not even enter the pool. She adds that 30 percent of children who drown didn't even plan on going swimming. One in five fatalities from falls into water are children under the age of five.

We enroll our kids in Red Cross swim programs each summer. Our 12-year-old daughter has progressed through the levels more slowly because she was fearful of the water when she was small. All the more reason to (gently) persist. We found kind and caring Red Cross-certified instructors to teach her one-on-one in a private pool. She is now a capable swimmer. Our 15-year-old son is working on his lifeguarding courses. He completed the Bronze Medallion and Emergency First Aid certifications last year and will be doing Bronze Cross this year. Not only will this help with his own swimming skills, but it also opens up the possibility of future summer jobs at municipal pools and beaches.

Despite the fact that my kids have completed several levels of swimming instruction, we never let them swim without supervision. It was the same for me growing up. My mom didn't exactly get to let loose at our Lake Erie cottage. Any time my sister and I (and often our friends) wanted to go swimming, my mom would grab her folding chair and head to the beach with us. We didn't enter the water without an adult watching. 

We recently rented a cottage east of Algonquin Park with friends. There was no sandy beach - just a dock and a few feet of shallow water before the lake bottom dropped down significantly. We made sure one or more of us parents watched the three kids whenever they even went to the dock. And they wore life jackets each time they went in a kayak or paddle boat. (As did we adults.) They would swim nearby without life jackets, but only with supervision.

Keep Kids Safe Around Water With These Strategies

  • Supervise children in and around pools and other bodies of water
  • Know how to perform a safe rescue
  • Enroll children in Red Cross swimming lessons so they have skills they need to stay afloat
  • Enroll yourself in Red Cross swimming lessons if you're an adult who cannot swim or is a weak swimmer. (You'll also learn how to recognize hazards.) 
  • Ensure that your backyard pool is properly fenced and has self-closing and self-latching gates
  • Clear pool decks of toys and debris to prevent trips and falls
  • Avoid alcohol when in, on and around the water
  • Drain kiddie pools when they are unsupervised

What is active supervision?

From 2009 to 2014, an average of 35 children ages one to 14 died by drowning each year while playing in or around water. These tragedies could have been prevented through active supervision by a responsible adult.

  • Actively supervise children – it’s not enough to be close by; your eyes need to be on kids at all times. Reading a book, texting or surfing the Internet does not qualify as active supervision. 
  • Consider requiring young children and non-swimmers or weak swimmers to wear a life jacket to help them stay at the surface.
  • Take children with you if you need to step away from your responsibilities as the supervisor near water.

Visit Red Cross for more information

Visit Red Cross online for more information on how to keep your kids safe this summer. You can also find the French site here.

Parents, do you have a pool or visit somebody with a pool? Watch this important video

*I am sharing this important message as a member of the Red Cross Canada water and pool safety blog team working with Thrifty Mom Media. I have been compensated, but this is an issue that is important to me and my opinion is authentic and my own.


  1. Really important message, and I appreciate the reminder to always be actively watching our children in the water.

  2. A very MacDonald post! I'm unable to even look down at a magazine when the kids are in the pool. At the ocean we have a one adult to each child rule - we're not a relaxed family! Mom always said no one related to us ever fell asleep at the wheel - haha!

    1. Haha, your comment made me laugh out loud. Like actually laugh - the old-fashioned way. ;) I hadn't thought about that, but yes I am born and bred to be cautious, like you. I guess we relax when the kids are in bed? xo

  3. We belong to a pool each summer and I trust my kids abilities but you just never know when something could go wrong so it is always best to stay vigilant.

  4. Great tips! We don't have a pool, nor do we have the opportunity to be near water very often. I don't really know how to swim (just the dog paddle) and my daughter was too scared to learn. My husband is from NS though, and loves the water (especially the ocean). I guess it's never to late to learn...

  5. Kids make me nervous around water so we made sure our kids done a safety course and learned how to swin ! I`m going to miss summer !

  6. Tragedy happens so quickly. We have know those who have lost a little to drowning and so have always kept a keen eye around water. We also thought it was a life skill to have each of our children learn. Different communities we have lived in have all had different swim lessons programs. We have appreciated them all.

  7. Important everywhere all the time. Even as an adult I have found myself in waters, while on vacation, that I did not know and was pulled under. A reality check for sure.

  8. Water safety is so important. I'm so glad you're addressing this. Even the strongest swimmers can be compromised.

  9. I had the same feeling about water safety as you. I am a swimmer but lack the confidence. My children went thru all the Red Cross training and actually took jobs as Life guards at the city pools during their school years.