Pool Safety and the Benefits of Swimming for Children

During the spring and summer months, the pool, both indoor and outdoor, is a wonderful place for children to have fun, cool off, spend time with their friends, and even get some exercise! Swimming offers tremendous health benefits and can be a great activity for children with orthopedic, neurologic, or sensory diagnoses. For example, children that are recovering from an orthopedic injury, such as a fractured arm or leg, increase their range of motion, endurance, and strength when swimming. Children with increased muscle tone from a neurological disorder will benefit from swimming as the properties of the water help to elongate tight muscles. Swimming helps regulate the sensory system in children who have sensory processing disorder and also helps children with motor planning and sequencing difficulties to coordinate the movements of their arms and legs to be in sync with their breathing. Let’s not forget that swimming is fun and can be very social especially when playing with all of your friends in the pool!

As an occupational therapist, I know how beneficial swimming can be for children. However, as a water safety instructor (WSI) and lifeguard, I have also seen firsthand the importance of pool safety. If your child has an orthopedic or neurologic diagnosis, always ask his or her MD, physical or occupational therapist for any additional recommendations. Below are some safety tips for all children:

  • ALWAYS know where your children are in the pool, be able to locate them at all times. The lifeguards are busy looking at the entire pool area and can miss the quiet drowning signals.
  • Always swim with a lifeguard present.
  • Always swim with a buddy and adult present. Check in frequently.
  • Apply sunscreen before entering the pool to prevent sunburn, and reapply after each swim.
  • Stay hydrated in the hot summer months.
  • Do not dive into water that you do not know the depth.
  • In a crowded pool, wear a bathing suit or cap that is easy to spot so that your family can find you. Some families have siblings wear the same bright colored bathing suits/caps to help locate where children are swimming.
  • Wearing a wetsuit can help to increase buoyancy as well as keep your skin protected from the sun. When the temperature is cool, a wetsuit can help keep you warm. A wetsuit also provides tactile and proprioceptive input to your body (an awareness of where your body is in space).
  • Bathing caps and goggles help to keep hair out of the child’s face and protect their eyes.
  • Sign up for some lessons with a certified swim instructor, who can teach your child the following: how to safely enter and exit the pool, floating on your tummy and back, techniques to tread in deep water, and proper breathing techniques. Contact nycgovparks.org OR redcross.org for swim lesson information.
  • If your child is healing from a broken bone, ask his or her physician about waterproof casts for use in the pool. Always check with your physician if it is safe to swim.

Reviewed on May 10, 2018.

Lorene Janowski is a pediatric occupational therapist at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center within Hospital for Special Surgery’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion.



Topics: Pediatrics
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