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Tips & Advice

Babysitting: Pool Safety

If the family you babysit for has a pool, your first thought is probably about all the good times you’ll have splashing around with the kids. But pools — whether they’re toddler-size inflatables or big in-ground affairs — can be just as big on danger as they are on fun.

Here are some tips for babysitting kids poolside.

Top Things to Know About Pools

  • Never take kids in a pool without the parents’ permission or if you aren’t an experienced swimmer.
  • When a family has a pool or hot tub, always know where the children are.
  • Check any doors and gates leading to a pool on a regular basis to be sure they are locked.
  • Set and follow pool rules (e.g., no running around the pool).
  • Never leave kids unattended around a pool, even for a second.

It’s up to parents to teach their kids proper pool behavior and keep pools on their property safe. But we all know that kids forget things when they’re caught up in the joy of play. So you’ll need to stay in control to prevent emergencies.

Always Supervise Kids Around Pools

Rule #1 for pool safety: Never leave kids alone around the pool. Even kids who are good swimmers can drown. Don’t let yourself get distracted either. Taking your eyes off young children at the pool, even for seconds, is enough time for a drowning emergency.

Don’t let kids’ friends or other children swim in the pool unless you have checked with their parents first. Think about getting help if you’re worried about managing more children on your own.

Indoor pools are even more risky because they can be easier to get to. Always know where kids are and check doors leading to pools to be sure they are locked.

Take your cell or a cordless phone poolside. A quick-dial feature keyed to 911 or your local emergency center will save additional seconds. But don’t use your phone for other calls or to text or send pictures while you’re watching kids at the pool.

When a family has a pool, “supervise” means watching kids indoors too. It’s a tragic fact of life that curious toddlers can wander out of the house and get into a pool or hot tub very quickly.

Set Pool Rules

For the safety of your charges (and your own peace of mind), make pool rules and be sure kids stick to them. Even if the parents are pretty relaxed about pool safety, tell kids that it’s “new rules” when you are in charge.

These rules apply to both backyard and community pools:

  • No running around the pool or pushing each other.
  • No diving, except from diving boards or in designated diving areas.
  • Get out of the pool immediately if the weather turns bad (especially if there’s lightning).
  • Contact the lifeguard or another adult if there’s an emergency.
  • Older kids should set an example for younger siblings.

With younger kids, it’s enough to set rules and enforce them every time the kid forgets. With school-age kids, explain why the rules are in place. For example: “We don’t run around pools because it’s easy to trip, hit your head, and fall into the pool.”

More Tips for Pool Safety

  • The family you sit for should have a fence with a locking gate around the pool that prevents the kids from getting to it. Keep pool gates (or doors leading to pools) locked. The safest pool gate has a self-closing gate with a childproof lock.
  • Don’t rely on inflatable flotation devices (like swim vests, water wings, rafts, or noodles) as a substitute for constant supervision.
  • Keep walkways around a pool clear of toys, furniture, or other objects. You may set a “no running around the pool” rule, but kids will forget. It just takes one stumble to pitch them into the pool.
  • After kids are finished playing in the pool for the day, remove all pool toys and put them away. Children can drown while trying to retrieve playthings left in the pool.
  • Remove ladders going to above-ground pools when the pool is not in use.

Play Pools

Play pools can be as much of a risk as full-size ones: Kids can drown in as little as an inch or two of water, so supervision is just as important. Clear kiddie pools of toys when you’re finished using them so little kids aren’t attracted to the pool. When you finish using a small wading pool, dump out all water and turn the pool over so it can’t fill with rainwater. For larger-size play pools, ask the parents what they do to keep the pool safe.

Backyard pools remain a hazard even after the swim season has passed. For example, many kids attempt to walk on top of pool covers and may get trapped underneath. Knowing the risks can help you keep pools safe year round.

Babysitting kids around pools is a big responsibility. If you don’t feel comfortable supervising kids in a pool, tell the parents. They’ll understand.

With the right level of supervision and caution, pools offer a chance for kids to play outside and get some exercise. The downside is, the more fun the kids have, the more alert and watchful you’ll need to be. It’s a lot of work, but you may be rewarded with some tired, happy kids!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013