As summer approaches, neighbors are getting their backyard pools and spas in shape for another season of fun. It can be a lot of work and just like every year, I get lots of questions from new parents asking me about water safety. Let’s start off this swim season right with a review of what it means to be safe around the water with your kids. Here are some of the most common questions I get along with my answers:
1. What are the number one things to keep in mind when it comes to swim safety for kids?
This first one is easy: supervision! Kids should never be in a pool, spa, lake, or any body of water without constant adult supervision; not just there with them, but focused on the children exclusively. Those who are watching the water cannot be engaged in anything else. Parents have to understand what drowning looks like and never assume that they will hear trouble; they will have to watch for it.
Many organizations, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, have developed Water Watcher cards for the responsible adult to wear at pool parties and other swimming activities so other adults know that they are busy and not to be distracted. I think they are a great idea.
Make a habit out of always assigning a responsible young adult or adult as a full time water watcher and remember that some children will need closer supervision than others.
2. How should a parent’s attitude about swim safety change as a child grows older? Are there different rules for different age groups?
Attitudes can shift as a child’s abilities grow, but ability isn’t always linked to age. There aren’t different rules concerning safety for different ages. Non-swimming children of any age should be closely supervised when in the water. “Touch-supervision” is a term used to describe the care needed for those with limited swimming ability. An adult should be within arm’s reach at all times when a child who is learning to swim is in the water.
As a child’s ability and confidence in the water grows, so can your distance from them while watching them swim and play. But there will never be a time when you should feel so confident that you walk away and leave them unsupervised.
3. If a child can’t swim, can a parent still bring him or her to the pool with friends or siblings? How can we keep that child safe?
The water can be a fun place for everyone. Parents whose children haven’t yet learned to swim shouldn’t be afraid to take them to well maintained and supervised pools. New swimmers can stay in the shallow end within touch supervision of an adult or even venture into deeper water using approved flotation devices like the SwimWays Sea Squirts Life Jacket. They are my absolute favorite product on the market for less-than-confident swimmers.
Of course, the answers to keeping non-swimmers kids safe in the water is as varied as kids themselves. Maybe they only feel comfortable being in the water with Mom or Dad right there with them. If so – get in there with them and work with them to feel comfortable. There are other products in the Swim Steps line that can help you both feel comfortable as you introduce them to the water. Remember that every minute in the water shouldn’t be a swim lesson, but they can learn when just having fun.
Whether your child is a confident swimmer or a beginner – being close by, watching, and participating with them as they are in the water is the ultimate safety net.
4. What are some of the best ways to teach our kids about swim safety without scaring them or making them afraid to swim?
This is another question I get a lot and for years it used to be difficult to answer. Any parent with more than one child knows how different their personalities can be and how you talk to them about anything can be specific to the child. But for the past year and a half, I’ve been privileged to work with an organization that has developed what I think is the best way to get the message of water safety across to young children.
My good friend, Blake Collingsworth, wrote a children’s book entitled Josh the Baby Otter. The book helps parents provide some context for small children when discussing water safety and helps convey three very simple yet powerful messages for kids: To never go near water without an adult; to first learn to float and/or swim before going in water; and to always swim with a buddy.
I’ve personally watched as children learned these basic safety rules about the water and then looked forward to becoming just like Josh and “learn to float!”
SwimWays is a proud supporter of the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation because they believe, as I do, that teaching children early about water safety is a necessary first step in the learn-to-swim process.
5. If you see a child who looks like they are in trouble in the water, what steps should you take to help them?
Without trying to condense years of rescue training into a single paragraph, I’ll start of by saying that it depends, though you should never let anything get in the way of common sense. Understand that a child in trouble in the water is having trouble maintaining their airway. Getting them out of the water is always the first step. If you are within arm’s reach (like you should be in many cases) then simply reaching over and picking them up has got step one out of the way.
You’ll often hear a rule that says “reach then throw, don’t go” that advocates reaching from the pool edge with your body or a pole, and if that doesn’t work to throw flotation or a line and pull the child to safety. The “Don’t go” part is a warning that worries about untrained rescuers needing rescue themselves.
That can be a problem, but again don’t forget common sense. If you’re not a trained lifeguard, and you see a toddler struggling in three feet of water just out of your reach, don’t waste any time trying to throw a life ring at the two year old; get in there and pick them up!
It’s a new season for fun in the water and learning to swim, but first things first; stay safe out there.
We’ve got some great things planned for this summer and we’ll be getting advice from some of my friends in the swim training industry and from parents like yourself over the coming weeks and months, so check back often. And keep those questions coming!
Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
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