Six Lifeguard Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe in the Pool

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age children are swimming on their kick boards during a swimming lesson. They are smiling and looking at the camera.
Summertime in Chicago is full of fun and family activities, but it is also a time where safety should be a major concern.
Anna Koperski, senior aquatics program director of the South Side and South Shore YMCA of Metro Chicago, has some tips for keeping your children safe during summer fun at the pool.

  1. Don’t use floaties.

    Floatation devices like arm wings, pool noodles and kick boards are not recommended. If you were to use a floatation device with your kids, like a life jacket or other floatation device that goes across the chest and arms, make sure it is labeled as “U.S. Coast Guard Approved.”

  2. Lifeguards aren’t babysitters.

    While lifeguards are always present at YMCA pools, they have to look after a lot of people at once. Therefore, it is important as a parent or guardian to actively watch your children while they are in the pool. This means put the books and mobile devices down, and keep an eye on your children. Or, even better, get in the pool and engage with your kids. According to a study done by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, 88 percent of kids who drown are under adult supervision but not within their line of sight.

  3. Holding your breath is dangerous.

    We all remember the handstand and breath holding contests in the pool, but these are not allowed at YMCA pools. This is because there is a chance of blacking out while underwater, even in the shallow end of the pool, which can lead to fatal drowning.

  4. There are no true signs of drowning.

    Drowning doesn’t always look how we see it on T.V.—with arms flailing while someone is yelling. It happens in only three to four minutes and someone can struggle on top of the water for 20 to 60 seconds before they submerge. This is why it is extremely important to keep an eye on your children.

  5. Jump with caution.

    Only do one bounce on a diving board before jumping in to avoid hitting the board while going in the pool, and be sure to jump from the front of the board, not from the side, with no one in front of you. It is also not recommended to have kids jump to you in the pool because it could easily turn into two accidents in the water.

  6. Make sure your kids get swimming lessons.

    It’s never too late to learn how to swim, and the YMCA offers courses from young toddlers to adults, but it is also important to remember that knowing how to swim doesn’t make you or your children drown-proof. Even if your children can swim laps, they should never swim alone.

The drowning rates for Black and Latino children is 1.4 times that of white children, and that disparity increases at 11-12 years old, according to the Center for Disease Control, where at that age African-American children drown in swimming pools at 10 times the rate of whites.
According to a national research study by the USA Swimming Foundation and the University of Memphis, 60 to 70 percent of African-American and Hispanic kids do not know how to swim.
Historically, swimming is not an activity of choice for African Americans, and if a parent doesn’t know how to swim, there is only a 13 percent chance that their child will ever learn to swim, according to that same study. Swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children one to four years old, according to a study done by Pediatrics and Adolescent medicine.
At the South Side YMCA, lessons are offered seven days a week and you do not need to be a Y member to sign up for lessons.
“As a parent, be vigilant, engage with your kids in the water, enjoy the water together, and be respectful of what you’re in,” Kopersky says. “The water can be very dangerous.”
For more info on water safety and swim lessons, go to

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