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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Once in a while I have a conflict in my schedule, and can’t be there with the family during pool time. Rather than deny my kids the fun of being in the pool, I will call in a babysitter. A family down the street has a young daughter who is super responsible (she’s a 16 year old who acts 30, is the way I think of her), and I feel very comfortable having her watch the kids for an afternoon, especially during the summer when she’s out of school. So what would I recommend for her or any young person charged with watching the kids?

1) Supervision at all times. If a babysitter is watching the kids and they are in the pool, her one task is to look out for those kids. The top recommendation by KidsHealth.org is to never leave the kids unattended, even for a second. If one of the kids wants a sandwich, don’t head off to the kitchen to fix it for them. If necessary, find out if all the kids are ready for a snack break, and have them all get out of the pool and go inside for a meal.

2) Keep a phone poolside. With a phone that has quick dial set to 911 or a local emergency resource, you might save valuable seconds in responding to a pool accident or emergency. But if you’re out watching the kids, that means you’re not texting, you’re not on the phone with friends, you don’t have any distractions in your world that would pull your attention away from those kids.

3) Set clear rules for pool use, and enforce them. Find out if the parents have a set of rules they have established for using the pool. Kids will sometimes try to push the boundaries with a babysitter, thinking they can get away with it. If necessary, pull one of the kids out of the pool and make them sit next to you for a specified time. It will establish that you mean to abide by the “pool rules,” and that there will be no bending the rules just because Mom and Dad aren’t present.

Some of the rules will be obvious: “no running,” “no diving, except off the board,” and “get out of the pool in case of bad weather.” But other rules specific to the household will need to be clearly understood and enforced as well. It can be helpful to explain the rules and why they are in place. “If you’re running around the pool, it would be easy on a wet surface to trip, hit your head and fall in the pool. That’s why we don’t run.” If the parents have a lax attitude toward safety – let the kids know that there will be a new set of rules while you’re in charge, and they will be taken seriously.

4) After the kids get out of the pool, clear the area. Kids might be tempted to go back out to the pool and try to retrieve a pool toy, or to return to the playing that was so much fun earlier. If they see the toys being picked up and put away, it signals that pool time really is over, and that it’s time to go inside and stop the swimming session. As well, if there is an above-ground pool, remove ladders – that will limit access.

5) Lock the gate. Hopefully the family you babysit for will have a fence around their pool, with a locking gate. Ideally, there will be a self-closing gate with a childproof lock. If it has a keypad, the parents should give you the combination, so you can lock the gate, which will not let the kids get back into the pool area. If there is a door from the house with access to the pool, once you herd the kids back into the house, lock that door. Hopefully it will have an alarm which will sound an audible signal if anyone tries to use it. You want the kids out of the pool area, and not able to return to it.

By knowing the situation with the family you’re babysitting for, both about the rules they have for the pool, and the ways to close off access when pool time is over, you can provide a safe and fun time for the kids until the parents return.

Becky Flanigan was an English major in college, and now enjoys using those skills when writing freelance articles for Pool Center about pool cleaner parts and various other topics. Becky likes spending time and travelling with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 golden retrievers. Since her children were infants, she has spent many fun filled hours at the family swimming pool, watching the kids and dogs splash and play.  She is also an avid gardener – and even helps friends landscape and decorate their yards.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to keep kids safe near pools.