By June this year, three New Orleans area children under the age of 5 had drowned. Two of the drownings occurred in swimming pools and one in a hot tub.
Drowning is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 2, according to the National Safety Council. Even outside of boating, there are about 10 drownings per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one in five people who die from drowning are under the age of 14.
When you combine those statistics with another — 52 percent of the 350 square miles that make up New Orleans is water — you can understand how vital water safety is here.
“You can become desensitized by the presence of water. We become too comfortable,” says Dr. Meghan Howell, a Tulane University pediatrician, who says supervision is key in preventing water fatalities, and young children should always be within arm’s reach of a parent or guardian. A child’s curiosity and developmental limits can change a fun outing into a tragic one.
“By age 1, a child can follow a one-step command, such as ‘hold my hand,’ but not understand why they have to do that. By age 3, most children can follow a two-step command, such as ‘hold my hand’ and ‘stay away from the pool’ but that child still does not understand the reasoning behind it. At ages 5-7, children can formulate concrete reasoning. But such reasoning is based mostly on experiences they have had.
“At an early age, parents can start to reason with their children and give additional guidance. However, it’s not really until early adolescence (ages 11-12) that children can form more abstract reasoning and think outside their own experiences,” says Howell.
Even when rules and regulations are in place, what parents see as safeguards can instill a false sense of security, especially when it comes to very small children.
“Toddlers will do what you ask. They will obey. But they can also be distracted. Children ages 1 to 3 are very sensory-driven. They want to touch, taste, feel. A closed gate to a 2-year-old says, ‘Come see how to open me,’ ” says Howell.
Children can drown in less than 2 inches of water. It can happen in the sink, a toilet bowl, a bucket, inflatable pools, even standing water in a yard.
“Contrary to what people think, drownings are not very dramatic. In reality, a drowning can be silent,” says Howell.