American Morning

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May 28th, 2009
01:24 PM ET

How can I keep my toddler safe in the pool?

Dr. Gupta answers viewer questions every Thursday on CNN's "American Morning."

From Thespena in Crown Point, Indiana:

“My son is 3 this year and has outgrown the kiddie pool but I’m nervous about letting him swim in deeper water. I’ve heard toddlers can drown in water only a few inches deep. Is that true?”


Hi Thespena,

Thanks for asking this question. As a parent of three small children, I completely understand and share your apprehension. You want to do everything you can to keep your son safe, but at the same time to give him as many beautiful life experiences as possible, swimming being a great one (especially as we’re heading into summer).

You’re correct about the drowning hazards for toddlers. In fact, just one inch of water is enough for a toddler to drown in, according to Safe Kids USA Part of the reason is because their little bodies are top-heavy, so they have a harder time maintaining their balance and getting back up when they fall. Every year, more than 800 kids in the United States under age 14 die as a result of unintentional drowning. For your 3-year-old, his risk rate is double that of any other age group; children 4 and under actually have the single highest drowning death rate according to the National Safety Council.

But that doesn’t mean you have to keep your child out of the pool altogether. The number one thing you can do is to keep a close watch on what’s happening when your child is in the pool. Try to stay no more than an arms-length away. Unlike the way we see drownings depicted in the movies, there’s usually no prolonged flailing of arms and crying out – sadly, it’s usually very quick and quiet, so you can’t just rely on being in earshot. You have to keep your eyes on your son at all times.

Also, don’t rely on floats or any other swimming aid to keep your child safe because those are not meant to replace your own supervision and can give parents a false sense of security. When you feel he’s ready, you should start taking your son to swimming lessons. It’s a great source of exercise and fun for kids, and the sooner he becomes comfortable and skilled in the water, the safer he’ll be as he grows older.

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Filed under: Dr. Gupta's Mailbag
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. swim lessons boulder

    I just have to say, this info. is sooooo helpful.

    September 22, 2009 at 2:52 pm |
  2. Lifeguard

    I"m a lifeguard, swim instructor. Kids should start lessons at 6 months old. As soon as they can hold there head up. It's amazing to see a child from 6 months progress, but the time they are two, they can jump in, turn around, float on there back, swim to the side, grab on and climb out, all by themselves. I taught leassons for 8years, and probably taught over 100 toddlers in that time at the age of 6 months and up. It's all about saftey, and never being an arms length away. The other important thing is the 1,2,3 count. Everything is done with a 1,2,3 count. You ingrain it in the childs head, so by the time they are 2, and independent, they know they can't jump in the water without the 1,2,3 counts...

    July 15, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
  3. krissyt

    hahahaa I love the "whack him in the pool" ... CLASSIC! Our three year old is in swimming lessons at a local University and what I like most is that they teach water safety first and swimming second. There's a rope around the pool and to get past the rope they have to ask their mommy or daddy first. It's an awesome approach!

    June 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm |
  4. Jaisinghani Chandru

    CNN : You are doing a great job.
    My reading Dr. Gupta's article is so valuable and timely. I am a
    grand father of 18 month very active little girl who loves bath tub
    and kiddie pool. We will be extra extra cautious from now on.
    Thanks CNN & Thanks Dr. Gupta.

    Jaisinghani. C

    June 17, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  5. Lynn

    I agree ISR is super. Our 3 and 4 year old girls are on their second week of classes and it is amazing!

    June 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Susan Malota

    Infant Swimming Resource is your answer to this problem

    June 10, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  7. Joe the Plumber

    You can always make more kids.

    June 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  8. Zdenka

    Go to

    June 1, 2009 at 7:37 am |
  9. CrazyHorse

    Don't put any water in the pool.

    May 28, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  10. Jim

    We started our kids at 2 years old. they progessivily got more comfortable and could swim further and further. Once they were comfortable we found out that that does not mean they can swim. We had a toy floating in the pool my son reached for it and fell in (we were standing right there) because it startled him he panicked and sank right down, we grabbed him and he was fine just shaken. We then did what we clled look at the lizard on the wall. We made up all kinds of scenarios around the pool. He was fully clothed and we would go out by the pool and say look at the lizard on the wall and whack him in the pool (fully clothed). What we did was eliminate the shock factor that leads to a majority of the drownings of small kids. Kids learn how to swim what they tend to not do is get over the shock of falling in. we made it so they did not panick from the initial shock. he is 7 now and avid swimmer. in th

    May 28, 2009 at 3:25 pm |