By Haley Clark
LEARN HOW TO HAVE SAFER KIDS, SAFER WATER AND SAFER RESPONSE BEFORE YOUR KIDS ENTER THE WATER.
The stores are full of so many cute swim suits that you can hardly decide which one to buy. The kids are begging to hop into the pool even though it’s still only 55 degrees. The warm sunshine has you blissfully planning your summer vacations; But there are a few things to remember if you would like your summer to turn out as perfectly as you have imagined it.
We are talking water safety, and here are some of the best tips, tricks, and rules that I’ve learned after a lifetime in the pool, teaching thousands of kids to swim, and hearing the horror stories of far too many parents. There are three categories that we can use to all but eliminate risk to our most precious popets: safer kids, safer water, and safer response.
I will start with safer kids, as that is what I do every day of the week. Start with swim lessons. Swim lessons reduce the incidents of drowning by 88% in children ages 1-4. Can I say that again? Eighty eight percent is huge! Many parents feel that they are too busy, or they have plenty of time to learn to swim when their kids are older. Some even believe that their children are “not ready” and it’s not worth dealing with those toddler tantrums; But it’s children four and under who have the highest drowning risk. Commit to swim lessons while your kids are little and they will be strong swimmers by the time you must juggle school, soccer, gymnastics, dance, little league, piano, and whatever else. Take it from this mother of four, life only gets busier as your children get older.
Do not rely on your child’s past swimming accomplishments to keep them safe. This time of year, we see child after child jump into the pool with confidence, only to jump in after them as they flail helplessly. The longer it has been since your child was last swimming, the more likely they are to have forgotten their skills. It is extremely common for children to forget up to 50% of what they could do a season prior. Encourage them to start slowly and watch carefully to ensure that they are still competent to do the same things they did before.
Do not rely on large groups to keep your children safe. People often feel more secure as long as there are lots of people around. Someone will see if anything happens, they think, but this isn’t true at all. People are busy talking, eating, or checking their phones. Parents do not realize that drowning is most often silent. I cannot tell you how often I have had to jump in after a child who was underwater and unable to breathe two feet behind a distracted parent. Neither you, nor anyone else, is quite as aware of your surroundings as you think. Instead, one person should be the designated water watcher. This person should be free from distractions and keep their attention on the pool, lake, river, or ocean at all times. You can trade off every half hour so that everyone has a chance to relax and enjoy themselves.
Utilize life jackets! Tubes, noodles, and floatie suits are no substitution for a properly fitted life jacket. If you cannot commit your full attention to your child and remain within an arms reach, a life jacket is your best friend. Just remember to give children time to swim without one as well. Many children can grow over confident in their abilities if they never get the chance to experience the aquatic environment without assistance.
Safer water seems logical enough, but can be the toughest to maintain. A pool fence is not negotiable, blight on the landscape though they may be. Any water must remain off limits to children until supervision is present; And you must keep gates closed at all times. Propping the gate for ease of travel in and out of the pool area completely defeats the purpose of the barrier. Pool fencing that isolates a pool on four sides is estimated to prevent up to three quarters of child drowning in pools.
Rules about how and when you can enter a pool should be strictly enforced. Never allow children to enter the water without an adult in the pool first. Yes, this means you must get wet first. No, being nearby and watching is not good enough. The advanced version of this rule is that you should never swim alone. Even if swimming ability is not a question, no one is safe from a bee sting, a seizure, a heart attack. Water is a suffocating liquid and should be treated with caution at all times.
Of course, all toys, even pool toys should be stored outside of the pool area. Children do not need any extra enticements to play near a pool unsupervised.
Lastly, there is safer response. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. First, keep a phone nearby at all times. If the worst should happen, you will need to call 911 to help you deal with the situation.
Second, every parent should be certified in CPR. CPR is your last line of defense against tragedy as well as limiting the severity of injuries. Remember that for every child who drowns, there will be ten who must be treated for “non-fatal submersion injuries.” That means that even if the child does not die, they are likely to be suffering from memory issues, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic physical functions. Standing by and wringing your hands while waiting for help is of little use to anyone.