Worry Clock Blog: Summer Water Safety Quiz

Today’s blog entry is for data-driven homeschooling moms, and it’s all about an area of ever-present concern: water safety. Calvert Education is partnering with Natalia E. Pane, M.A., M.B.A., author of The Worry Clock: A Parent’s Guide to Worrying Smarter about Your Child, to provide the Calvert community with information on the whole child, with a focus on child safety. Be sure to read Natalia’s previous blog posts, with some eye-opening statistics on teen driving and dog safety.


1. Which age group has the highest rate of drowning?  (Hint: It’s the #1 cause of accidental death.)

  • Infants (0-1)
  • Toddlers (1-4)
  • Young children (5-9)
  • Pre and early teens (10-14)
  • Teens (15-19)

2. True or false: Drowning for toddlers usually occurs in crowded pools when no one is watching.

3. True or false: Boys are more likely than girls to drown.

4. Where does most drowning occur for infants?

5. True or false: Buckets are more dangerous than toilets.

6. True or false: You need to be able to hear what is happening in a pool to know if a child (or anyone) is drowning.

7. Name four things you can do to protect your child from drowning.


1. Toddlers (1-4). Toddlers have the highest rates of drowning; drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for toddlers.

Did you guess infants? Reasonable, but generally speaking, parents know to watch infants. Drowning is somewhat constant across childhood, but there are a few ages when it is notably higher. Toddlers have just shy of twice the rate of any other group. Most of these incidents happen in the earlier toddler years. Next highest are infants and teens at about the same rate. The teens are mostly boys who are swimming after drinking alcohol.

2. False. Most drowning occurred in home swimming pools, and most of those who died lived in the house with the pool, were under parent supervision at the time, and were not near the pool (or expected to be near the pool) when last seen.

The image of a public pool swarming with children may be what comes to mind, but most drowning occur in residential (home) swimming pools, and most of the children who drowned were children who lived in that house (65 percent). Fewer than 2 percent of the pool accidents were a result of children trespassing on property where they didn’t live or belong. [I]

Most of these children were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time. [II] More than two-thirds (69 percent) were not expected to be in or at the pool. Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. [III]

A typical scenario is more like what happened in Fontana, California, on July 17, 2011. A father was getting ready for work while the mother got their two older children ready for school when they noticed their twenty-month-old daughter was missing. The father quickly found her in the back yard hot tub, but it was too late. The parents each thought the other had the child. “It only took fifteen minutes.” [IV]

3. True. Boys are significantly more likely than girls to drown.

Nearly 80 percent of people of any age who die from drowning are male, [V] and for one- to four-year-olds, boys are almost twice as likely to drown in a pool. [VI] Boys were twice as likely as girls to drown in natural water, perhaps because they are more likely to wander out of the house to a nearby pool, pond, or stream. [VII] For example, last summer, there were three deaths in Virginia from flooding, one of which was a twelve-year-old boy who went into his own backyard to check out the swollen stream and was swept away by flood waters.

4. Yes, infants drown in bathtubs, and it happens FAST.

In San Tan Valley, Arizona, on December 20, 2013, a four-month-old girl drowned when her father left her alone for about ninety seconds to attend to another child. [VIII] For infants, sixty percent of infant drowning deaths occurred in bathtubs and only about 8 percent in swimming pools, a pattern that reverses for toddlers. Got an infant in the house? Then keep drawing that hard line on never turning attention away.

5. True. Buckets, particularly painters’ buckets, are dangerous for small children, especially toddlers.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that children drowned in five-gallon buckets (think bright orange or white painters’ buckets) three and a half times more often than in toilets. They concluded, “Of all buckets, the five-gallon size presents the greatest hazard to young children because of its tall, straight sides. That, combined with the stability of these buckets, makes it nearly impossible for top-heavy infants and toddlers to free themselves when they fall into the bucket headfirst.” [IX] The majority of drowning involved children younger than two years old. This shouldn’t surprise you; the whole idea is that when children have a Sputnik-size head, their relatively tiny bodies cannot get it out of the water.

6. False. Drowning is silent; you need to be able to see what is happening.

One of the repeated cautions to parents across websites is that they should not expect to hear a child drowning. Many sites point out that the drowning shown in movies is far from what actually happens; when someone is drowning, even an adult, they are silent. No arms flapping, no splashing, no screaming. The Coast Guard’s guide “It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning” [X] notes that when people, including toddlers, are drowning, they: 1) are not able to call for help (the ability to talk shuts down until breathing is restored); 2) bob in and out of the water but don’t stay out long enough to breathe; 3) cannot voluntarily control their arm movements, so they cannot wave for help, move toward a rescuer, or reach out for a piece of rescue equipment; 4) remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick; and 5) unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, can only struggle on the surface of the water from twenty to sixty seconds before submersion occurs. Parents might assume that there would be enough commotion to alert them or other bystanders, but this is probably not the case.

What can you do to ensure your child is safe near any source of water?  Here are some recommendations: [XI]

  • Secure access to pools, ponds, etc whether at home or at a home you are visiting.  Ensure either a locked fence around any pool your child has access to or an alarm on the house door that leads to it. If you are visiting a home with a pool or pond nearby, particularly if you have a child that wanders, bring a door alarm with you (inexpensive ones available on Amazon.com; I use a modified window alarm).
  • Know where the water hazards are in your area and areas that you visit.  Mistakes in communication happen, so have some system to know when your child may have left the area.
  • Check the pool first. If your child is missing and you are in a house with a pool or body of water, check that water as soon as you notice the child missing. (Then check cars).
  • Take your child to swim classes. Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children ages one to four. Learning about the strategies related to various kinds of water may be helpful, too. For example, children near the beach should know that if they are caught in a rip current (a strong current that can pull the child away from shore), they should swim parallel or at an angle to the shore to break free from the current, rather than try to swim against it.
  • Use touch supervision.  Adults should provide “touch supervision,” meaning they are close enough to reach the child at all times. Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children.
  • Don’t leave infants alone in the tub, ever. It’s not neurotic; it’s good practice based on data.
  • Store buckets upside down. Where possible, keep your painters buckets upside down, so they don’t accidentally stay filled or collect water.
  • Skip the book and opt for the book on tape when watching the kids at the pool. Use your eyes to keep track of how well they are doing, not your ears.

These steps may not be right for your child, and do not guarantee that your child will be protected. Talk to your health care provider about what is best.

One sentence take away: If you have a toddler, particularly one who wanders, make sure you block access (lock doors, door alarm, etc) to any bodies of water in your home or any homes you visit.

Wishes for happy and safe summer swimming!


Natalia E. Pane, M.A., M.B.A., is the Senior Vice President for Research and Operations at Child Trends, a think tank and research organization devoted to improving the lives of children and families. For fifteen years, Natalia worked with leaders within the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services on federal data collection, analysis, and use. With the recent (2013) publication of The Worry Clock: A Parent’s Guide to Worrying Smarter about the Real Dangers to Your Child she examines the statistics from a whole new perspective—a mom who wants to continuously become a better mom.



[I]  Consumer Product Safety Commission, “CPSC Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools,” http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/pool.pdf.

[II]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unintentional Drowning Fact Sheet.”

[III]  Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Safety Barrier Guidelines for Home Pools,” http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/pool.pdf.

[IV]  Amy Powell, “Twenty-Month-Old Girl Drowns in Fontana Hot Tub,” Inland Empire News, 2011, http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/inland_empire&id=8256182.

[V]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unintentional Drowning Fact Sheet.”

[VI]  About 1.9 to 1.1 per 100,000.

[VII]  See http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsDrowningRisks/.

[VIII]  KTAR Newsroom, “Infant Drowns after Being Left in Tub Unattended” (December 20, 2012), http://ktar.com/22/1597040/Infant-drowns-after-being-left-in-tub-unattended.

[VI] Ibid.

[X]  Mario Vittone and Francesco Pia, “It Doesn’t Look Like They’re Drowning,” http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/On%20Scene/OSFall06.pdf.

[XI]  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Unintentional Drowning Fact Sheet.”