There are so many news articles about drowning during this time of year, drownings happen so quickly and quietly. In addition to telling parents to pay attention to their children and not get distracted, here are some practical safety tips from a mom who investigates drownings, about how to keep your kids safe in the water. Please share:)
1. Train your Kids about Water with Safety Briefings.
Make sure they always ask permission before entering the water. Have a little meeting about expectations. My kids now know to wait (sometimes impatiently continually asking me “Mom, what do we need to know…can we go yet?!?!?”) until I give my briefing. Outline where they can swim, jump in, how they can jump in, and anything else safety-related. A great time to do this is while applying sunscreen. They should also know the consequences if they don’t follow the safety rules. These consequences should be severe and consistent. My kids would have to leave the swimming area completely, and if I was the only parent, we all had to go. The other kids will also make sure everyone listens because there are consequences for everyone.
These meetings are a way for me to teach my kids respect for the water. They obviously know it is dangerous, but sometimes aquatic centers, waterparks, beaches and pools look so fun and enticing, that it is easy to forget. You can include your children in the safety briefings. What do they think the rules should be? What do they see as dangerous? They have some amazing insights too and sometimes see things I didn’t think of right away!
2. Depths of Water vs. A Child’s Height
Teach your kids to know depths of water and how to read them on the pool deck, and they know what it means related to their height. Your 6-year-old should know that 4 ft of water is over his head, and 3 1/2 ft of water is up to his eyes, which is still over his airway. Your 8-year-old daughter should know that 4ft of water is at her eyes and she will need to tread and can’t have her airway out at this depth. This piece of knowledge helps them to make good decisions and helps them to understand how water depths are different for each person. A taller friend may have no problem in the 4ft area, while they would need to tread or have trouble touching. Awareness of depth in relation to their body is important. This helps them understand the idea that their buddy can go there because he is 6 inches taller, but he can’t.
3. How to Get Away
We see this scenario all the time in drowning events, swimmers who are okay on their own, have someone grab onto them because they are struggling and they can’t getaway. Teach your kids how to get away if someone grabs onto them. Your child might be a great swimmer, but she may not be able to tread water and keep her and another kid above the waterline.
Teach them how to Suck, Duck, Tuck: Suck in air if you can (get a breath), duck under the water (the struggling person doesn’t want to go there), and tuck (use your arms and legs to push away) – and then yell for an adult immediately to help the other person.
Teach them to be very careful of who they touch/grab onto in a pool. Maintaining personal space is important.
4. Distraction Reminders
Ask your kids to keep you accountable. They should know either you or your partner should be watching them at all times. We have told them that if we aren’t watching them, they need to get our attention and help us because as humans we get distracted naturally. Try to stay involved in their activity and keep your phone away, but you can still get distracted with other kids, food, talking, you name it…life is full of distractions.
There are tons of campaigns about designating a “water watcher” with a specific tag indicating you have the responsibility of watching the water. These are great tools, and we also need to make sure the water watcher is not distracted. Alerts can keep you focused as long as you stay off your phone for all other purposes. Put your phone in airplane mode and set a reminder every minute to say ” Kids Breathing”. Be aware of your distractions both internal and external. If the phone is a distraction all together, maybe alerts aren’t for you. Find what works to keep you focused and stick with it for the entire swim time.
5. Designate Breaks
Swim for a designated time, like for 30 minutes. You may need these breaks more than the kids do. Lifeguards rotate every 20-30 minutes to give their minds a break and to stay fresh. The same thing applies to parental supervision.
6. Limited Trust
Simply, do not trust other people to watch your kids in the pool. It is me or my husband, that is it. If they are swimming at Grandma’s they have to wear a lifejacket. If they are going in the water at the beach on a board with their cousin, they have to wear a lifejacket. I do not want them to have to own that responsibility if something were to happen to one of my kids in their care. It just isn’t worth it.
The same goes for lifeguarded swimming areas. I am my kids’ primary source of supervision and the lifeguard(s) are there for back up and emergencies. I do not rely on them for basic supervision. You only have your children but a lifeguard has divided attention between 25 or more people.
7. Lifejackets are Cool
Culturally we seem to have a negative attitude towards lifejackets. I don’t think there is anything wrong with lifejackets, in fact, there are so many games and activities you can do with them. We just need to make them cool again. If there are a bunch of kids I’m watching, I’d rather have everyone be in a lifejacket. It can be a lifejacket pool party. Having everyone in one makes it much “cooler” and doesn’t embarrass the littler kids or weaker swimmers. When I ran camps, even the counselors would wear them, be cool like them! Having rolling log challenges in the lifejackets, water balloon tossing contests, have relays to pass rings from your toes..the games are endless, and the safety is higher with everyone in a lifejacket. Now there are times that my kids will even say they would rather just be in a lifejacket. Awesome.
**Just an added side note that when referring to “lifejacket” I am referring to a USCG approved lifejacket (check the inside of the jacket or vest). Noodles, Inflatables, baby circles, tubes, and all other items are not safety-related and should not be used or trusted to keep your child safe. We see countless videos of kids who flip over in an inflatable ring and can’t right themselves and are stuck underwater upside down, or are in arm floaties and can’t get their head out of the water because their arms aren’t strong enough, or who lose purchase of a kickboard they were holding onto for floatation. Even in a lifejacket, you need to diligently and constantly supervise as children can get in positions that can still obstruct their airway especially if they are younger or weaker.
Show your kids what drowning can look like. They should know that water is dangerous and that even good swimmers can drown. They should know medical events can happen without warning and that drowning can happen quickly. They know they can’t breathe in the water, they know why we take breaks from swimming, they know why they enter the water feet first, they know why we don’t play breath-holding games or activities. It isn’t just because I said so, I try to give them real reasons to my rules. A healthy fear of water is a good thing.
9. Hey, Watch This…
Phrases like “Hey, watch this…” usually are the beginning of something dangerous or a little crazy about to take place. This is a kid’s way of announcing they are pushing the boundaries or are going to show-off, and I take these phrases as a time to talk about danger and pushing boundaries. Are they just showing me something or are they about to do something risky. There is a difference and I try to talk about good decisions around the water. Phrases like “Hey, watch this…” are ways to cue into other people’s behaviors and intentions. They now alert me when others use these types of phrases too. I always say we can have fun without being dumb.
10. See Something, Say Something
Make your kids are part of your safety team. They are buddy watchers for each other and ask them to look out for other kids. Ask your son where his sister is, or what the other person is doing. Train them to look at others and make sure they are okay, to know what they are doing. My daughter the other day said, “Mom, I almost called you…that boy was under the water and I counted from 5…5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but he popped up again before I got to 2.” I asked her, what would you do if he was still underwater when you got to one, and she said “I’d say something to you or an adult until you responded”. Perfect.
Kids are an additional layer of protection and they have good instincts. Teach your kids not to assume someone is playing. If they see someone underwater, they start counting. So often, in drowning investigations we see kids (and adults) swimming over or around someone who is underwater and they don’t do anything. They assume they are okay, they assume they are playing, they assume they are doing it on purpose. Don’t assume. Teach them the 5-second rule (check out Mel Robbins book on the topic) and if they see something to say something.
Other Water Safety Tips:
- Swim Lessons Save Lives
- Learn CPR – Drowning patients need oxygen – give air first!
- USCG approved lifejackets only – no arm floaties or inflatables
- Designate A Water Watcher / Swim with a Lifeguard
- Always use pool barriers and layers of protection
- Enter the water feet first
- No running
- Stay hydrated / protect yourself from the sun
- No drugs/alcohol
- All water is dangerous – even inches
- Always swim with a buddy
- Lost / Missing kids – always check the water first
I hope this helps and gives you some practical tips for improving safety during your water-related activities. Share this information to hopefully prevent any more drownings. Stay safe and vigilant!