Reported level of supervision of young children while in the bathtub

Ambul Pediatr. Mar-Apr 2003;3(2):106-8. doi: 10.1367/1539-4409(2003)003<0106:rlosoy>;2.


Background: Unintentional drownings cause over 600 deaths annually among children < or =5 years of age. Bathtubs are one of the leading sites for such drownings for children < or =2 years of age and especially for children 1 year or younger.

Objective: To determine reported levels of supervision of children while they are in the bathtub.

Methods: A face-to-face questionnaire was administered to a convenience sample of parents or guardians of children < or =5 years of age who presented to the emergency centers of 2 children's hospitals. The investigators developed a 17-point survey that included items related to general demographics and bathtub supervision. Parents and guardians were asked details concerning who supervised while the child was bathing, any unsupervised periods, length of unsupervised periods, and activities during any unsupervised periods.

Results: A total of 259 families participated in the survey (16% Caucasian, 79% African American, 1% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 1% biracial). The mean caregiver age was 29.1 years (SD 7.9). The mean age of the child was 30.5 months (SD 22). Overall, 31% of the respondents reported leaving their child unsupervised for some period of time in the bathtub. The mean age of children left alone was 37.5 months, with the youngest being 5 months old. Seventeen percent of children < or =24 months of age (N = 123, mean age 12.7 months) and 15% of children < or =12 months of age (N = 60, mean age 6.7 months) were reportedly at times left unsupervised in the bathtub. Common caregiver activities when leaving the child unsupervised included getting a towel or diapers, answering a phone, and cooking. A 5-month-old child was left unsupervised for >2 minutes, and an 8-month-old child was reportedly left unsupervised for >5 minutes to cook a meal. In addition, 20 of 259 respondents (7.7%) reported that their children bathed alone before the age of 5 years, and 4 respondents (1.5%) reported that their children bathed alone before the age of 2 years. Although most primary supervisors were adults, 5 children were at times supervised by children <10 years of age. No significant differences were seen based on the hospital, race, or educational level of the families.

Conclusions: Many parents reported leaving their young children at times inadequately supervised in the bathtub. This occurred in children as young as 5 months of age. Given the potential risk of drowning when their children are inadequately supervised, parents should be advised concerning proper supervision in early anticipatory guidance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Baths / adverse effects*
  • Baths / methods
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drowning / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Parenting*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*