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Pool safety tips for parents

When shopping for a home, parents often marvel at properties that feature a pool in the backyard. Once they see a pool, parents envision their kids having fun in the sun with friends and family.

While days spent poolside with the family are fun, they can also be dangerous, especially for children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 1 to 4 have the highest drowning rates, and fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years. It's no wonder then why parents place such a strong emphasis on pool safety. The following are some preventative measures parents can take to reduce their child's risk of an accident in the pool.

* Ensure children know how to swim. Teaching kids to swim might sound obvious, but many kids jump into pools before having any formal swimming training. But a child who has received formal swimming lessons has a significantly smaller risk of injury or drowning than one who has not received formal lessons. A 2009 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Medicine found that participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children ages 1 to 14 years. Local community centers as well as the YMCA and even the Red Cross likely offer swimming lessons for children, so parents should take advantage of these highly effective programs.

* Pay constant attention when kids are in the pool. Kids should never be left unattended when in a pool. But accidents happen even when parents are nearby. However, how quickly adults or others respond to a child in danger can have a significant impact on the outcome of an emergency situation. A study in the medical journal Pediatrics determined that the more quickly someone is able to intervene, such as administering CPR, the better the chance of improving the outcome. So parents should respond as quickly as possible whenever they suspect something has gone wrong in the pool.

* Don't rely on air-filled or foam toys. Parents should not rely on air-filled flotation devices such as "water wings" as a safety measure. Such devices can deflate, putting kids at risk, especially if parents are under the assumption that the devices are enough to keep kids safe while they man the grill or mow the lawn. Even if kids wearing flotation devices have had swimming lessons, the likelihood kids will panic and forget those lessons if the devices deflate is significant enough that parents should pay constant attention.

* Do not consume alcohol. Adults should never consume alcohol while children are swimming in the pool. Alcohol can negatively affect judgement, balance and coordination, making it more difficult to respond to a pool emergency should one occur. In addition, the effects of alcohol are heightened by exposure to the sun and heat, so consuming alcohol on hot summer days while kids are swimming in the pool could be an unnecessary risk.

* Put all toys away after swimming. A pool and its surrounding deck should not have toys lying around, as this only entices children to go into the pool area when Mom and Dad might not be home or watching them. A study from the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home and had been out of sight for less than five minutes. Kids can quickly disappear, and it might be too late before parents notice their youngster has jumped into the pool unsupervised. Put all toys away once a swimming session ends, so kids don't feel the urge to go play by the pool unsupervised.

A backyard pool is both fun and potentially dangerous. A few safety measures can drastically reduce the risk of drowning or injury, but parents should remain alert and attentive whenever kids are swimming or playing around the pool.