Make a Splash and Stay Safe at the Water Park

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Cooling spray, wild rides and crashing waves make for water park fun. Here’s how to ensure your kids have maximum thrills with minimal risk of injury.

Spray park safety for toddlers and preschoolers

*    Before you go

Kids get excited when they see the spray, so talk about safety at home. That way, they’ll be better listeners. Make the rules clear in advance.

“No running,” says Franceen Gonzales, vice president of risk management for Great Wolf Resorts and former chair of the World Waterpark Organization. “The most common injuries at spray parks are scrapes and cuts caused by slips and falls,” she says. Kids may not notice hazards in their path, like play equipment and other kids.

Also, talk about where you will be and what kids should do if they’re lost. If the park is staffed, introduce kids to the lifeguard and direct them to find a lifeguard if they’re lost, Gonzales says. You don’t want them to wander off looking for you.

*     At the park

Spray park participants should wear swimwear. While it’s tempting to let kids play in street clothes, soaked clothes can make it harder for kids to move. And don’t forget a swim diaper. Recreational water illnesses, including diarrhea and skin infections, can be caused by germs from fecal matter. Remind kids not to drink the water.

Protect heads and feet, too. A wide-brimmed hat is the single best way to keep sun off your child’s face. Special rubber-soled water shoes can provide traction, but they need to fit well. Choose close-toed shoes to avoid tripping over flip-flops or stubbed toes.

*     At the limit

Take breaks for drinks and snacks, and reapply sunscreen often. Injuries are most likely when kids are tired, so make naptime a priority. Spray play takes lots of energy.

Water park safety for older children

*    Before you go

Potty training may be a thing of the past, but make sure your kids know it isn’t OK to pee in the pool, Gonzales says. If your child isn’t potty trained, a swim diaper is a must. Poor hygiene increases the risk of illness, including diarrhea and infection, because warm, wet conditions encourage bacterial growth.

Go online and scout out what rides and attractions are offered and manage kids’ expectations, Gonzales says. Guidelines for minimum rider height are established by safety agencies. These ensure riders have the size and strength needed to use the


*     At the park

Let the good, clean fun begin with a shower, Gonzales says. Wash hair, too. Hair products cloud the water. Shower again after playing to remove chlorine, which can dry out skin and leave kids itchy.

Even if there are lifeguards on duty, swim and play with your kids. Lifeguards may be responsible for scanning large areas. You know your child best, Gonzales says.

An American Red Cross survey found 30 percent of parents believe “floaties” are an OK substitute for supervision. Not so, Gonzales counsels. No matter what their age, weak swimmers should wear life vests approved by the U.S. Coast Guard Association. Most water parks won’t allow other devices.

Make sure kids know the risks of diving, too. Kids can be paralyzed or killed by diving in shallow water. If signs aren’t posted or you don’t know the depth, don’t dive.

*     At the limit

Watch for fatigue and encourage kids to take breaks. Rest and rehydration are important, especially in hot, humid conditions.

Be vigilant. If you see something unsafe, bring it to the lifeguard’s attention. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

A little advance planning can make your splashing fun, safe and sane!  n

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a freelance writer and water lover. Follow her blog on parenting as leadership at


Get water safety and drowning prevention tips at

Learn about recreational water illnesses at

Take first aid and CPR classes through the local Red Cross at

Find sun and water-smart apparel for babies and toddlers at

Buy high-SPF clothing for kids like those at

Teach kids to swim.

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