Tips for keeping your children safe around the water
Since having children, water safety has been a primary focus for us as parents. Every time we move or travel, we always make sure to consider the water around us. According to the CDC, accidental drowning is among the number 1 leading causes of death for children between the ages of 1 and 3. On top of these staggering numbers, an African American child between the ages of 5 and 19 is 5.5 times more likely to drown in a pool than a white child. That was all we needed to know to get serious about water safety.
Growing up, swimming was a pretty routine experience for my siblings and me. My mother began taking me to swim lessons at the YMCA when I was just a little girl. I enjoyed the idea of swimming, but I was always a cautious child, and therefore a little reluctant at times. Eventually, I had to learn how to get around the pool safely if I was going to be able to keep up with my three brothers who are all great swimmers. So, I did just that.
When our children were born, Russell and I agreed to prioritize pool safety. Our home has a pool and, although it’s always covered, there are many times when the kids have access to other pools as we visit friends or stay in hotels. Needless to say, we started introducing our children to the water when they were 2 months old. A few months later, they started swim lessons.
We love seeing how each child develops their own relationship with the water. While Noah and Jordyn absolutely revel in it, Skye merely tolerates it. Despite their personal feelings towards the water, they know that participating in swim lessons, and learning the basics of water safety are non-negotiable in our household. I was advised by our swim instructor that it can take up to 5 lessons before a reluctant child will stop crying throughout the session. Not my Skye. She cried for the entirety of each of her first 12-14 sessions (she’s stubborn, that one). Yes, it was hard to watch, and excruciating to listen to, but we stayed the course. To our reward, Skye is now thriving in the water and conquering all of her swim lessons. She’s reaching every milestone, and even smiling sometimes along the way.
There’s often a big push each year in May regarding water safety, and rightly so – May is Water Safety Month – but we must never forget that drowning is the leading injury-related cause of death in kids aged 1-4, and the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death amongst children aged 5-19. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many of those deaths occur when we don’t expect kids to be swimming – when they accidentally come into contact with a body of water. With all of this in mind, I compiled a few reminders that should be at the forefront of our minds, year round.
Always Supervise Children in the Water
You can’t save a child from drowning, or prevent a drowning, if you don’t see it happening. Parents (or another supervising adult with swimming skills) should be within an arm’s length of younger children while in the pool, providing constant “touch supervision.” A supervising adult should be able to keep a close eye on older kids and not be distracted by other activities – cell phones or people watching, whatever it may be. The AAP recommends assigning a “water watcher” – an adult who can pay constant attention to children in the water, and further recommends having water watchers switch off to ensure they stay focused.
If you or another supervising adult can’t be present to watch your mini swim, then it is imperative that the pool or body of water be inaccessible to them. The AAP argues that the most important safety measure in homes with a pool is a 4-sided fence that completely surrounds the pool and isolates it from the house. Teach kids early and young that no one swims alone, and that they are never to jump into a body of water without asking for permission first!
Life Jackets Are Necessary But Not a Substitute for Supervision
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all young children and non-swimmers wear Coast Guard approved life jackets or personal flotation devices when close to a natural body of water or pool, as well as recommending that all children and teens wear a life jacket while on a boat or jet ski or similar. They note that having a life jacket handy, but not on the child, is precisely when drowning happens – it doesn’t do any good if it isn’t on. BUT, life jackets are never a substitute for adult supervision. This is a great opportunity for adults to model safe behaviors – if adults are wearing life jackets while boating or on jet skis, children are more likely to do the same.
Enroll Your Child in Swim Lessons
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children learn to swim, noting that research has found that swim lessons are beneficial starting around age 1 and may in fact lower drowning rates. Parents should talk with their doctor about how to find a local instructor suited for their child’s developmental level and can reach out to city government if the cost of lessons is a concern. Swimming lessons would ideally include both lessons on swimming strokes and “water competency,” including the ability to get out of water if you accidentally fall in. Swimming can be a wonderful family activity – and the more comfortable your kids are around water, the more comfortable you will be! It’s important to note that even the most confident swimmers can find trouble in the water, underscoring the absolutely critical need for supervision anytime someone is swimming. No one should swim alone, adults included!
I’m sharing all of this with you today hoping that it will encourage everyone to take water safety very seriously. Whether you’re just dipping in with your child, or going the swim lesson route (we do both), teaching your child to respect the water can save your child’s life. It’s difficult for children to comprehend the dangers of water without experiencing water firsthand, so go ahead and dive right in!