As it turns out, yesterday was an interesting turn of events that luckily ended on a good note. But it was certainly a reminder of why it’s important to discuss water safety basics with kids and their caregivers (parents, grandparents, friends, babysitters, you get the idea) on a regular basis.
I spent the morning working on an article about water safety for kids. I’ve researched and written about this topic many times, but it’s always good to have a little refresher every year. And also there’s a little hope that maybe some of the injury and death statistics have dropped.
The Facts About Drowning
Unfortunately, according the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fatal drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional death in children between the ages of 1-14. Like motor vehicle related deaths (the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for kids), most drownings are preventable.
After picking up my two older children from school, we decided to head to the community pool for our first swim of the season. As I was getting my one year old ready, the big kids told me an ambulance was over at the pool. I hadn’t heard any sirens or commotion and so I didn’t think much of it. But as we walked over to the pool, I saw two firefighters talking to my neighbor who was sitting next to her 3 year old son lying on a chaise lounger, hooked up to an oxygen monitor with his eyes closed.
Luckily, my son was strapped into his stroller so I parked him in the shade and headed over to my neighbor to offer my help with her baby and find out what had happened. Apparently, as her two older boys were playing around and in the pool she turned her attention to her nearby baby for a moment.
The Realities of Drowning
A moment- a brief smile and tickle with your baby. A quick glance at your phone. A few sentences read from your book. It only takes a moment. In young children especially, drowning can happen in a matter of seconds.
Drowning is quick. Drowning is silent.
Drowning can happen to anyone.
In the brief time she looked away from her older kids, her 3 year old took off his floaty and jumped into the deeper end of the pool. When she looked up, she saw him floating face down in the water, not moving. She quickly ran and grabbed her lifeless son out of the water and began shaking him and patting his back. As a mom who has held my limp, breathless and blue baby in my arms, I can tell you this is a horrifying feeling to experience.
Although he was a little out of it, he began breathing and coughing soon after. She immediately called 911 and a medic unit came to check him over and then transported him to the hospital for a complete check up. Luckily, he was able to come home after about 7 hours at the hospital and had no complications due to this event. But for my neighbor, myself, and our children, it will be a life-lesson not soon forgotten.
Common Myths About Drowning
When I spoke with her the next day, we talked about what happened, some common myths about drowning, and ways to improve safety practices around water.
MYTH #1: I have time to do other things while my kids swim.
While the kids are swimming, it may seem tempting to catch up on emails, read get a few pages of you book read or entertain other children. It’s tough to juggle multiple kids at a pool. However, with young children especially, it can take only a few seconds for drowning to happen. Even if there is a lifeguard, you should keep within arms reach of young children in the water. If you need to turn away, have kids get out of the water and wait near you.
MYTH #2: My kids are too young for swimming lessons.
There is never a bad time to learn basic water safety maneuvers. Children can learn rescue skills such as rolling over and floating on their backs. Swimming lessons also help establish routines for getting in the water properly, swimming safely to the side, and develop swimming techniques and skills.
MYTH #3: Inflatables, water wings, and foam toys will keep my kids safe.
Water wings can slip off, inflatables can deflate or pop, and foam toys can float away. Swim aids cause kids to rely on them to stay above the water. If those pop or kids take them off, kids may not understand that they won’t float. If you would like your child to occasionally wear a floatation device, use a U.S. Coast Guard approved device such as a life jacket or a puddle jumper. Just be sure your child spends some time swimming without a swim aid as well.
MYTH #4: I’ll hear my child if he is struggling in the water.
Drowning is silent. Unlike Hollywood depictions of drowning, children don’t yell and scream when they are struggling in the water. Often times, they don’t understand what is happening to them and they don’t have the skills to maneuver their body to safety. Your body’s instinctive reaction is to continue breathing which means any time above water is for taking a breath, not yelling for help.
MYTH #5: My child was only underwater for a minute and she’s breathing now. She doesn’t need medical care.
For any type of near-drowning incident you should seek emergency medical care right away. Near-drowning involves a period of time that someone is unable to breath under water. There are health complications involved with near drowning and your child should be evaluated as soon as possible, even if you think they are fine.
As someone who has promoted water safety for kids for many years, this was definitely an eye opener for me. I could relate to the distractions moms face everyday that can temporarily take us away from our safety precautions. I also found it somewhat alarming in talking with my kids about what had happened and realizing that as 9 and 6 year olds, they didn’t seem to fully understand the gravity of the situation. So although we had recently reviewed our water safety rules, we’ve been expanding on those practices and principles the last 24 hours and I will continue to do so all summer long. I always explain the safety rules to my kids as well as the realities of why we need to follow them. I’m not afraid to talk to them and share the honest truth about serious injuries and death so that they understand why we need to follow the safety rules.
The Top 7 Water Safety Tips
1. Always have a designated adult watching children swim
For younger or unskilled swimmers, stay within and arms reach. Even if there is a lifeguard on duty, you should still have a designated adult in your group watching your children. Think of lifeguards as the secondary level of protection.
2. Learn how to swim
By taking swimming lessons, children can learn swimming skills and routines that help establish good safety practices such as waiting to enter the water until an adult gives you specific permission to do so. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports swimming lessons for most children 4 years and older, and for children 1 to 4 years of age who are ready to learn how to swim. However, keep in mind that swimming lessons are not a substitute for adult supervision and are not to be considered a way of “drown-proofing” your child.
3. Have barriers around pools
Install fencing that is at least 4 feet high around a pool with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Gates should swing out, away from pools, not be pushed in toward the pool to open.
4. Use U.S. Coast Guard approved floatation devices
Water wings, inner tubes, and foam toys are not life saving devices and should not be relied on to keep a child afloat. Only use U.S. Coast Guard approved floatation devices for non-swimmers such as a life jacket or puddle jumper. Children should always wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket whenever they are in a boat.
5. Learn CPR and basic water rescue skills
In the immediate seconds after someone is pulled from the water, CPR should be started if the person is not breathing. If someone else is present, send him or her to call for emergency medical help.
6. Remove pool toys from the water when not in use
Children may be drawn to the toys and try to reach them in the water. Always place the pool toys away from the water when not in use.
7. Teach children basic water safety rules
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Water Safety Tip Sheet
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I hope that by sharing this story, people will be reminded of the need to follow these safety precautions with children around water. Please share this information with others so that we can all help to reduce the number of near-drownings and fatal drownings that happen each year.
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