Water Safety for Kids: 6 Steps to Safety

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Every kid should be able to help themselves if they unexpectedly fall into the water, and it is every parent’s job to help their child be as prepared as possible.

Get these tips in a printable, shareable PDF. Download here.

Foss Swim School offers this six-step guide as a basis for effective life-saving actions in an emergency. We encourage you to make sure that, wherever your child learns swimming, these basic steps are taught and practiced, including realistic practice in clothing such as a t-shirt.

The best approach to water safety—avoid danger to begin with

Self-rescue is an important skill, but hopefully one a child never needs. Just as important as knowing what to do if a child falls in the water alone is to take steps to avoid this ever happening.

Parents need to:

  • Supervise closely – an adult should always have eyes on children near water
  • Rotate supervision – come up with a plan to hand off formal watching dutues
  • Turn off the phone – even a brief distraction is too much

Children should be taught:

  • Never swim alone – have a friend with you and an adult watching you
  • Always ask permission to enter the water – make sure the adult sees, hears and understands, grabbing their hand if needed
  • Don’t reach for dropped objects – it’s an easy way to end up falling in, so get help instead


Never too young to start learning water safety

Of course, There is no such thing as being drown-proof, but every additional level of swimming skill reduces the likelihood of drowning.

The following steps can be learned by very young children – even at 6 months a child can begin to learn the first three steps. These steps build on each other, and each step increases the child’s safety and likelihood of getting safely from the water.

1. DON’T PANIC – The key is comfort in the water and with water on the face. Basic acclimation such as bringing a child in the shower or holding them in a pool starts this process. A child needs to be able to submerge their face without fear and can learn this by stages.

2. GET TO THE SURFACE – Even small children can learn to trust their body’s natural buoyancy and know what motions of their hands and feet will help them get back to the surface. Knowing not to exhale and not to thrash is key.

3. FLIP ONTO BACK – This is the safest position for a child to breathe. Kids’ heads are heavy relative to their body, so trying to float upright or on their tummy is dangerous. Learning how to flip is a simple skill. A child floating on their back has a greater chance of rescue already.

4. FIND AN EXIT – Falling in the water usually means safety is nearby – a dock, the edge of a pool, a boat or floating platform. Once on his or her back, a child can look for that safe place.

5. SWIM-FLIP-SWIM – To get there, a child who knows all the steps should know to flip onto their tummy, swim a short distance, flip back over onto their back to breathe, and repeat as necessary.

6. ELBOW-ELBOW-SQUEEZE – Upon reaching something solid, if the height is near water level (like a pool), a child can complete self-rescue. Don’t try to crawl out – get an elbow up, then the other, then squeeze them together to lift the body. Otherwise, grab on and call for help.

Get these tips in a printable, shareable PDF. Download here.

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