Common sense

Worrying, as most parents can attest to, is part of being a parent. Parents want to keep their child safe, regardless of whether or not they have epilepsy. Yet, when you have a child with epilepsy, worrying takes on new meaning as the potential for harm seems to lurk at every turn.  When swimming and camping activities come up, many parents may wonder what is safe for their child.  When are safety precautions a good thing, and when do they prevent your child from participating in normal childhood activities?  Experts agree that exercising and not fear is the best step. But people first need to be aware of what the real risks are for their child and how they may vary by the type and frequency of seizures.

Tips to consider about water safety. A common cause of accidental death in people with epilepsy is drowning. 

  • Make sure children and adults learn how to swim!
  • A child should never dive into a river, lake or ocean.
  • Don’t swim alone, have a buddy!
  • The American Red Cross recommends using the REACH system – making sure someone is within reach at all times. However, this may vary with children who have well-controlled seizures.
  • An adult who knows what to do if a seizures occurs in water and knows lifesaving techniques should be available.
  • Tell lifeguards and swim instructors about your child’s seizures.
  • Wear a U.S Coast Guard approved life jacket with boating, when in or near an open body of water, or when doing water sports.
    • People with uncontrolled seizures should wear a life jacket near water.
  • Remember, it is essential to tell lifeguards or other responsible adults about your child’s seizure disorder before your child enters a body of water. It could save their life.
  • For more information on water safety:

About drowning in children

Unlike adults, children usually drown quickly and quietly. According to Maria Dastur, water safety expert for National Safe Kids Campaign, “One of the biggest misconceptions is that you’ll hear a child drowning, which isn’t true. When a child drowns

  • Make sure your child knows how to swim but still take precautions against drowning.
  • Check life jackets – make sure they are in good condition. Replace any that have broken or torn straps or are worn out.
  • Learn how to prevent drowning and how to save someone from drowning.

Quick facts about drowning:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury related death worldwide.
  • Childhood drownings and near-drownings can happen in a matter of seconds and typically occur when a child is left unattended or during a brief lapse in supervision.
  • The majority of drownings and near-drownings occur in residential swimming pools and in open water sites.
  • Children can drown in as little as one inch of water! All that’s needed is enough water to cover the nose and mouth.

Encouraging independence

At times it’s hard to tell the difference between normal concern, fear, and overprotection.  Every parent of a child with seizures, and any family member of an adult with seizures should look carefully at their concerns, fears and behavior.  Are your fears or limits placed on the person with epilepsy preventing them from participating in life, being a child, developing some independence? Can they be involved in making safety decisions?

  • Putting unnecessary restrictions can be damaging to a child’s self-image. “It is crippling to be overprotective. When you are being overprotective you are damaging your child,” said Barbara Siegel, a mother of an 11-year old daughter with epilepsy. Another parent of a 19-year old with epilepsy, Diane DeVaul, agreed with Siegel, “I think it is important that kids with epilepsy are given the message that they can cope with new situations.
  • Parents should be more worried about the implications of being overprotective… the message they are sending to their child is that they are incapable of coping and being independent.” Sandy Cushner Weinstein, director of Camp Great Rock believes, “Everyone’s epilepsy is different. The seizures aren’t the limitations, self-belief is.”


Authored By: 
Steven C. Schachter, MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Wednesday, March 19, 2014