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Warning for parents of children aged 0–4: Pay attention near water, including in and around the house

Playing in and around the water can be wonderful. This could be in the tub at home, but it can also be nice to relax at the pool, lake or in a pool in the garden, especially in warm weather. It is always wise to pay close attention when in the water, but it is important to be extra vigilant with young children. Drowning is the leading cause of fatal accidents for young children up to four years old [1]. Children who drown primarily belong to this age group [2]. Parents must pay close attention to infants and toddlers.

Why are young children at increased risk?

  • Young children can drown in extremely shallow water. They explore everything in their environment without being able to see the dangers. Babies and toddlers also have limited motor skills, such as strength and coordination.
  • Children can drown in as little as 10 centimeters of water. This could be in the tub at home or an inflatable pool in the garden or on the balcony.
  • Young children cannot get out of the water on their own.
  • It is hard to increase safety for young children by changing their behaviour. Warnings about the dangers of water make little sense yet because they do not yet see or remember them, let alone apply them when a ball rolls into the water, for example.

We think many drownings can be prevented through simple precautions and alertness. We have compiled a list of six tips for parents and caregivers, based in part on existing educational materials [3]:

  1. Make sure you can see your child at all times.
  2. Make sure your toddler cannot leave the house or garden unseen (e.g., if there are ditches or ponds nearby).
  3. Stay close enough to small children (<3 years old) that you can reach them at all times.
  4. If several adults are present, make clear agreements on who will watch your child. Never assume that someone else will pay attention.
  5. Avoid distractions (e.g., phone, tablet or book).
  6. Make sure your child is wearing swimming armbands if they cannot swim yet, and a life jacket while on a boat. Please note: Do not let your child use swimming armbands in the sea in offshore winds (wind blowing toward the sea) or in open water with currents or strong winds.

[1] VeiligheidNL.

[2] Collard, D.C.M., & Floor, C. (2017). Meer zicht op verdrinkingen: verdrinking in Nederland: aantallen, oorzaken en preventieve maatregelen. Utrecht: Mulier Instituut.

[3] VeiligheidNL.