A group of people playing in a pool
By Nicole San Roman

Summer Survival Guide: Pool Safety

What does drowning look like? What does it sound like? In television or in movies, there’s typically a lot of theatrics involved. Anna Duran, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer at The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital explained- that’s not necessarily the case.

 “On TV we see people thrashing around because they're going to drown, and that's not really how it looks,” she said. “Drowning is quick and quiet.”

Working at the UNM Children’s Hospital, Duran has seen too many instances where a fun day at the pool turned into a tragedy for a New Mexico family.


“Children are natural wanderers; they are exploring their environment. Pool water is inviting. Kids love their bath time, they love playing in the pool, and they don't understand the risk.”

That risk can be heightened when a child is in or around someone else’s pool.

“Those are really the ones that come to my mind,” she said. “It wasn't their own pool, but they were visiting somebody who had a pool, and it just takes seconds for that child to slip away. It’s heartbreaking. It’s preventable. These are preventable injuries and deaths.”

As New Mexico’s summer heats up and kids across the state hit the pools, Duran is giving her top tips to make sure soaking up the sun remains fun and safe.

Anna Duran, MD
It wasn't their own pool, but they were visiting somebody who had a pool, and it just takes seconds for that child to slip away. It’s heartbreaking. It’s preventable
Anna Duran, MD

1. Swim Lessons & Talking to Kids About Water

Nationally, about 1,000 children in the U.S. die every year from drowning. Duran says of those kids, half are under the age of four. So, when it comes to swim lessons, Duran says parents should make them a health priority.

“Statistics show when children have learned to swim, you see an 88% decrease in drownings in age one to four. That’s a huge percentage.”

There are a lot of choices when it comes to swim lessons, including more affordable options often offered through the city or county.

Parents should also talk to their children about water. “It’s kind of like ‘hold my hand when you cross the street’ or ‘don’t touch something when it’s hot,’” Duran said. “Parents should share a similar message about water, ‘don’t go around water unless I am with you; water is dangerous.’”

2. Designate a Watcher with NO Distractions

Even when a child knows how to swim, children can still drown. Duran says it’s critical to designate someone to watch a child in the pool. “When you have everybody watching, nobody is watching,” she said.  

It’s also important that the designated watcher is not distracted. Duran says that means the watcher should put his/her phone away.

“The time it takes for us to post something on social media- that’s how quick it can take for your child to become submerged and drown,” Duran said.  “Unless parents are actively engaged in watching their child, their child is not safe in the pool.”

3. Know CPR

When it comes to drownings, seconds count. So, knowing CPR is a lifesaving skill.

“If your child is missing and there is a pool- that is the first place you should check,” she said. The faster you can pull a child from the water the better the outcome. Call 911 immediately and begin CPR.

4. Above Ground Pool Safety

Above ground pools can be an easy and inexpensive alternative to cooling off this summer, but above ground pools still hold a lot of water and hold the same risks as in-ground pools.

“The most important thing you can do is use a pool cover and remove the ladder so kids can't climb up and over. Children are very resourceful,” she said. “And kids love to play in the water. It's our responsibility to make sure that they can't get into the water.”

Duran also recommends removing pool toys and floaties from the pool to make the pool less inviting. “There shouldn't be anything that your child would want to go after.”

5. Life Jackets NOT Floaties

Things like arm floaties, swim tubes, and pool noodles should not be used as flotation devices.

“They’re not safe,” Duran said.  “You should not rely on them to keep your child safe in the water.” She says those things can be used if you are actively in the water with your child, otherwise your child should wear a life vest.

6. Fencing & Maintenance

Whether a pool is inground or above ground, Duran says a pool needs to be secured with appropriate fencing. She recommends gates that automatically close and it’s ideal if the gate can lock automatically. Pool maintenance is also really important. Duran recommends checking things like filtration caps to make sure they are secure. Pool maintenance should happen before the pool opens and continue throughout the year.

“Water is great. Water is fun,” Duran said.  “We want our children to have fun and to appreciate the joys of swimming, but we also want them to do it safely.”
Categories: Children's Hospital, Community Engagement, News You Can Use