Back to episodes



July is the hottest month of the year, which means a lot of time in the pool! And knowing how to keep your kiddos safe while they swim is the best way to ensure that this summer is packed with fun. Swim lessons, life jackets, and physical barriers around pools are just a few of the steps you can take to make swimming an exciting and safe adventure for children.

Host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez speaks with Melissa Sutton, the Vice President of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona, about how parents can keep pool time safe. Plus, learn how to communicate to your child the importance of pool safety in a way they’ll understand.

Podcast Resources:
Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona
National Drowning Prevention Alliance
Families United to Prevent Drownings
Guest: Melissa Sutton
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Melissa Sutton is the Vice President of Active Kids Global and the Vice President of Water Smart Babies. Ms. Sutton has also owned her own consulting and event planning business for nearly 20 years.


[00:00:00] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Chief of the Office of Children’s Health at the Arizona Department of Health Services. We’re here to help you navigate parenthood by giving you tips, advice, and information from experts who know best.

[00:00:22] Plus they’ll give you answers to the questions you didn’t know you had.

[00:00:33] Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Parenting Brief. Today’s episode is a serious topic, but it’s important to discuss, especially during the summer months, and that’s swimming and pool safety. The summer is intense and long here in Arizona, and the best way to enjoy the sun while escaping the heat is by going for a swim. Today, we’ll help you learn how to do that safely.

[00:00:57] As we know, tragedy can strike in a matter of [00:01:00] seconds, even when we think we’re prepared and paying attention, knowing what to watch for and teaching your child to swim at an early age can prevent drownings. But at what age should you teach your child to swim? How do you keep your kiddo and yourself safe and excited about swimming?

[00:01:15] And what should you do if an emergency occurs? We’ve invited a drowning prevention specialist to answer those questions and more up next.

[00:01:28] Today, we’re talking with Melissa Sutton. She’s the Vice President of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona. Thanks for joining us today, Melissa. 

[00:01:35] Melissa Sutton: Thank you for having me, happy to be here. 

[00:01:38] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: So toddlers have a way of getting into everything and anything, and they are the world’s best explorers. So even at times when you’d rather they stay put, they are certainly off doing their own thing. If they’re not all up in our space, of course. So for families who own a pool, what are the safeguards that they need to have in place to ensure that little [00:02:00] ones are safe and away from the pool? 

[00:02:02] Melissa Sutton: You are absolutely right. Children are so highly motivated. I kind of always joke about how, if this world could be run by the motivation the children have, as we become adults, it would be a changed place. I tell you what. 

[00:02:16] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: That is the truth.

[00:02:17] Melissa Sutton: Um, so it is important that we talk about the layers of protection. And what I love is there’s a lot of campaigns out there that mirror one another with regard to the ABC’s of, like we say, the ABCD’s of water safety, it makes it very simple for parents who are so overwhelmed with so many things that their kids are throwing at ’em that we keep it simple. 

[00:02:39] So A is for adult supervision, that’s our first layer of defense, always having an adult present, but they’re also quick and can get out of our sight and you know, who knows where they end up. So no fault of any parent, we all have to, you know, grab something to eat or use the restroom, [00:03:00] or take a nap ourselves as they, we think that they’re napping.

[00:03:03] So having the adult supervision, if that isn’t available, having B our barriers in place, we recommend a four sided pool fence to be around any pool that is in grandma’s backyard, mom and dad’s backyard, any home that they’re going to be visiting on a regular basis. For sure, barriers are so important. We know with the child fatality review team that I serve on that it’s usually a pool fence that if it were up and in place could have saved a life. And I don’t think people give enough credit to that layer, but there’s other layers too, with regard to barriers where you can have alarms on doors, high locks, you know, where the child can’t reach it. And it takes dexterity to be able to open. So that’s all under that B for barrier umbrella.

[00:03:53] Then we have our C’s and C’s is a two-pronged approach here and that’s classes, so we are [00:04:00] talking about having your child enrolled in swim classes the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at the age of one. There are some lessons out there that do take them younger, and that’s certainly up to the parents when they wanna start.

[00:04:13] But certainly by the age of one, because what I don’t think all parents know is that the CDC has declared drowning the number one leading cause of injury, death for children ages one to four. So it’s so important we get them enrolled in those swim classes as soon as they turn one, if not a little bit before. C also stands for classes of CPR. We want parents and caregivers to all get certified so that in the event there is an accident and the child isn’t able to save themselves, immediate CPR can be started while EMS is being called. We know that there’s lots of statistics out there that show us as soon as we can start CPR, the better the outcome could [00:05:00] be for anyone actually. And then the next prong, the second prong is for coast guard approved life vests. And this is so important because we have a lot of products out there on the market that are really confusing for parents. So making sure that those labels say coast guard approved and understanding when a good time to use them would be, especially like in a backyard pool setting, always, always, always on the lakes,

[00:05:25] that’s a hundred percent, but in backyard pools, it’s important that the parent teach a child what the life jacket feels like while it’s on and while it’s off, because unfortunately we have had families who’ve experienced a loss and they put too much faith in a life jacket. So if we can help our parents understand that teaching the child in a controlled environment, what it feels like when it’s on and how it keeps them afloat and buoyant,

[00:05:51] and then if they don’t have it on, how that is a much different feeling and really gets the child to understand that when they don’t have [00:06:00] it on bad things could happen. And our last D of the ABCDs is drains. This is something that really didn’t get added until fairly recently, but I’m so glad it did because a little over 10 years ago, the Virginia Graham Baker Pool and Safety Act was passed,

[00:06:20] it was the only federal law we have from Congress about pool safety. And it was for drain entrapment and really having children understand how dangerous drains can be both in pools and spas. But because of that law, couple things happened. One, drains have standards and codes now that have to be met so that it reduces the risk of entrapment, but also because of that law and the changing out of the, the drain covers, we have had zero drowning deaths due to entrapment in a drain cover.

[00:06:54] So huge, huge, huge there.

[00:06:57] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: I hear a lot of families say things like, oh, [00:07:00] well we don’t have a pool or nobody who we knows have a pool. And so they aren’t as feeling as if having those lessons or those things in place be as important, but drowning can happen outside of a pool also. So can you explain how much water is needed to drown in the first place?

[00:07:21] Melissa Sutton: Yeah. It’s oftentimes people don’t understand it’s two inches or less. We go out and teach CPR lessons and I will show people on our mannequins. I’ll say, where do you breathe from? And they’ll point to their, you know, nose and mouth. And I say, okay, take your hand and just put a circle with your index finger and your thumb around your nose and mouth.

[00:07:41] That’s how much it takes for someone to drown. Once you cut off those airways it’s not a good day anymore. And that really is a great visual for them to see what a small amount of water it takes to have somebody drown. And why is it important? Well, our planet is at least [00:08:00] 70% water. So besides the fact of wanting to use the planet in its entirety, to be able to, you know, enjoy life, whether now, or later in life, whether it’s swimming or going to the beach or, you know, any of the standup paddle boards or kayaks or canoes.

[00:08:18] Those are things that parents often don’t think about at the moment, cause they think, oh, I don’t have a pool or we don’t live in a an apartment complex that has one, but their neighbor might and probably does here in Arizona. I mean, if you don’t have a pool, your neighbor probably does. And we’ve heard of stories where say landscapers accidentally left the back gate open, and unfortunately that family didn’t have their pool fenced and someone’s child got out and got into that backyard and into that pool. So it’s thinking of things like that, whereas if you can equip your child with skills to save themselves, those situations become less scary.

[00:08:56] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: I have seen a lot online, you know, the [00:09:00] images and you are probably familiar of it, of, you know, like what color swimsuit our children should be wearing in order to be able to easily spot them in the water. Have you seen that? 

[00:09:11] Melissa Sutton: Yes, I have. And of course the brighter, the better, um, even as my children were younger, I have teenagers now, but when they were younger, yeah, they were in bright yellows and bright oranges. Just cause I needed to spot them anywhere, 

[00:09:23] right, if they’re in a crowd and if they’re in the, by the pool, but that’s always helpful and that’s a great tip to leave for our parents is certainly put them in bright colors, pinks, oranges, yellows, fluorescents. But we also have many programs out there that have these great water watcher tags.

[00:09:41] Some of them are lanyards, and some of them are wrist coils and it’s such a simple and brilliant program. All it is is you put the lanyard on, you have a responsible sober adult who agrees that they’re going to watch the water, not be involved in conversations, not go check on food, [00:10:00] not change diapers, not do all those other things that we normally do.

[00:10:03] But for those 10 to 15 minutes, 20 tops, because you don’t wanna be the person at the party who just has to stand there and watch the water. If you’re gonna do that hire a lifeguard, we recommend that too. But these simple tools designate a sober, responsible adult for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, they are watching the water for everyone because everyone, you know, when you go to these parties, you think I’m watching.

[00:10:24] I think you’re watching. And then nobody’s watching after those 10 to 20 minutes, they hand off the lanyard or wrist coil to another responsible sober adult who’s then in charge for the 10 to 20 minutes. And that just continues as everybody is in the water. It’s saved so many lives. We hear so many times where they were so glad they had somebody designated because someone went under, they were on the shelf and then they just slipped off and nobody saw and nobody heard and so it’s a great, great tool. 

[00:10:55] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of that with us today. [00:11:00] 

[00:11:00] Melissa Sutton: You’re welcome. Thank you again for having me and be safe out there.

[00:11:12] Jessica Stewart Gonzalez: Want additional resources on how to keep pool time fun but safe? We have what you need to know in the episode show notes. And go ahead and follow The Parenting Brief podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. It’s a free parenting tool, bringing you new information every other week. Until next time, this is Jessica.

[00:11:29] You’ve got this.

Back to episodes