Water Safety 101

It’s that time of year in The South when the weather changes from lovely to somewhere between the surface or the sun and lava. Rivers, pools, and beaches become a safe haven from heat strokes, but a scary place for kids if water safety isn’t a priority.

Having the discussion about all of the ways a child can easily drown is not a fun conversation to have, but this time of year especially, it’s a very necessary and important one to have.

Among preventable injuries, drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1-4 years of age. Children less than a year old are more likely to drown at home in the bathtub. They can drown in less than 2 inches of water. That means drowning can happen in a sink, toilet bowl, fountains, buckets, inflatable pools, or small bodies of standing water around your home, such as ditches filled with rainwater.

Supervision Is Rule #1 ALWAYS

  1. Watch kids when they are in or around water, without being distracted. Young kids and weak swimmers should have an adult swimmer within arm’s reach to provide “touch supervision.”
  2. Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools immediately after use. Store them upside down so they don’t collect water. Remember, 2 inches of water is all that is needed to be dangerous.
  3. Close toilet lids and use toilet seat locks to prevent drowning. Keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  4. Install fences around home pools. A pool fence should surround all sides of the pool and be at least four feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates.
  5. Know what to do in an emergency. Learning CPR and basic water rescue skills may help you save a life.
  6. Even kids who know how to swim can be at risk for drowning. For instance, a child could slip and fall on the pool deck, lose consciousness, and fall into the pool and possibly drown.

At Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers

  • Lakes or ponds might be shallow near the bank, but get deep quickly away from shore.
  • They may hide jagged rocks, broken glass, trash, and weeds and grass that could entangle a leg or arm.
  • Make sure kids wear foot protection. In the water, they should wear aqua socks or water shoes.
  • In bad weather, they should get out of the water right away.

At Beaches

  • They shouldn’t swim close to piers or pilings because sudden water movements may push swimmers into them.
  • The beach has special dangers like currents and tides. Look for posted signs about rip currents, jellyfish warnings, surfing restrictions, and other hazards.
  • Don’t allow kids to swim in large waves or undertows. Tell them never to stand with their back to the water because a sudden wave can knock them over.
  • Teach kids that if they’re caught in a rip current or undertow, they should swim parallel to the shore or should tread water and call for a lifeguard’s help.
  • The stings of jellyfish or Portuguese man-of-wars can be painful, so tell kids to watch out for them in the water and to tell an adult right away if they’re stung.

Something to know for all water encounters is that body temperature drops more quickly in water than on land. It doesn’t take long for hypothermia (when the body loses heat faster than it can make it) to set in. Get a child who’s shivering or has muscle cramps out of the water right away.

Pool Fencing

A fence that goes directly around a pool or spa is the best safety investment you can make. Four-sided pool fencing decreases water-related injuries in young children by over 50%.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says fences should meet these standards:

  • They should be at least 4 feet high, though experts prefer a height of 5 feet. They should have no foot or handrails for kids to climb on.
  • The slats should be less than 4 inches apart so a child can’t get through. A chain link fence should have no openings larger than 1-3/4 inches.
  • Gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out of kids’ reach, at least 4-1/2 feet above the bottom of the gate.

More Pool Safety

  • Seconds count in a water emergency, so keep your cellphone with you when it’s your turn to watch the kids in case there’s an emergency.
  • Make sure that babysitters and other caregivers know your rules for the pool and are CPR trained.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Keep safety equipment, such as emergency flotation devices, in good shape and close by when swimming.
  • After your kids finish playing in the pool, put all pool toys away. Children have drowned while trying to get playthings left in the pool.
  • If you have an above-ground pool, always lock or remove the ladder when the pool is not in use.

Swim Lessons

Swimming lessons are an important part of water safety. Kids can start taking them at 6 months. Younger kids often begin with water survival skills training (like learning how to roll onto their back and float). Along with swimming lessons, this training can reduce the risk of drowning in kids ages 1–4. Kids and parents often can take these classes together. Check local recreation centers for classes taught by a qualified instructor. If you don’t know how to swim, consider taking lessons. You also can search online for classes from the YMCA or Red Cross.

From boosted self-esteem to socialization, swimming classes have a lot to offer such as:

  • Enhanced safety around water. Water is everywhere. When your child knows how to swim, it can prevent accidental drowning. Even better, after your child masters the basics, there are always new skills to hone for even greater levels of protection in the water.
  • Increased confidence. When a child learns a skill, it’s an empowering experience — one that helps him or her feel ready to take on other challenges.
  • Great exercise. As a child, physical activity is important for preventing obesity, building endurance, improving strength and more. Plus, taking swim classes gives your child exercise that can continue in all seasons and ages throughout life.
  • Better academic performance. Believe it or not, swimming lessons have been linked with stronger academic performance. Whether it’s because of the discipline-building habits or the increased confidence of learning something new, the benefits of learning to swim extend even into the classroom.
  • Fun and socialization. For a child who loves the water, swim classes offer an opportunity to do something enjoyable and befriend other kids who share the same passion.
  • Stress relief. Kids who already know how to swim will often view swim lessons as a fun activity — one that’s mood-enhancing and restorative. Some of the other advantages of swimming, such as boosted confidence and social interaction, can be good for a child’s overall mental and emotional health, too.

The bottom line is, swimming is an important life skill not just to survive around the water, but also to reap all kinds of rewards. Signing your new or experienced swimmer up for regular lessons gives him or her an outlet for practicing this ability.

The National Institutes of Health released a study that supports the positive impact learn to swim lessons can have on young children and drowning prevention. The study concludes:Participating in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in children between the ages of 1 to 4.

Since I probably have you all nice and anxious imagining nightmarish drownings, let’s go over the basics of what to do in an emergency. If a child is missing, always check the pool or other body of water first. Survival depends on a quick rescue and restarting breathing as soon as possible:

  • If you find a child in the water, get the child out while calling loudly for help. If someone else is nearby, have them call 911.
  • Check to make sure the child’s air passages are clear. If the child is not breathing, start CPR if you are trained to do so. Follow the instructions the 911 emergency operator gives.
  • If you think the child has a neck injury, such as from diving:
    • Keep the child on his or her back.
    • Brace the neck and shoulders with your hands and forearms to help keep the neck from moving until emergency help arrives. This can help prevent further injury to the spine.
    • Keep the child still and speak in calm tones to keep the child comforted.

I you haven’t been trained in CPR, you can contact your local fire department, Red Cross, or American Heart Association for class listings. Have a fun and safe summer!

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