It’s summer! Your kids are thrilled to be out of school or daycare, to not have to put on a coat and hat every time they leave the house, and, yes, to spend all of the time possible in the swimming pool, lake, ocean, or other body of water.
And even though you also probably enjoy the same things, now that we’re parents, we also have to recognize how easily and quickly water can steal our children forever.
If you think I’m being dramatic, think again: drownings are the number one cause of accidental death among children under five, so water safety and awareness should be at the top of every parents’ list.
No one knows that better than mother and aquatics safety consultant Natalie Livingston, who has spent the last 25 years making sure kids and families are safe around the water. Even now, she continues to be surprised how many people aren’t taking water safety as seriously as they should.
“I was listening to the moms and realizing they had good intentions, but had no education on what can actually happen or things that contribute to a drowning event. I went home and just started writing and came up with ten things [people should know].”
She published the tips on the Facebook page Aquatics Tribe, the organization that educates the aquatics industry, and it’s since earned 5400 likes, 1300 comments, and 28,000 shares.
“I investigate drownings. I understand the realities of what can happen, often so quickly and quietly. I read a lot about water safety and tips telling parents paying attention to their children and not being distracted, which is so important. We see so many news articles about drowning during this time of year, but a lot of the advice isn’t practical and just highlights the problems, so I decided to write my own list of tips to help.”
Her tips come from years of experience, straight from the briefings she has given in person hundreds of times.
“I outline where they can swim, jump in, how they can jump in, and anything else safety related. They also know the consequences if they don’t follow the safety rules. 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…I also love including my 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.”
If you’ve got little kids, these tips should definitely be in your arsenal, so give them a look!
The Meaning of Depth and Height
Your kids should know how tall they are, how to read the depth markings on the side of the pool, and how the two are related. If your child knows how high the water will be on their body, they’ll be able to make better decisions and/or be prepared for treading water, etc, in water where they know they won’t be able to touch.
How To Get Away
Even if your child is an aware, strong swimmer, drowning events can happen when another, less experienced swimmer, panics and grabs onto someone else. Teach them to suck, duck, tuck: suck in air if you can, 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 to help.
They should also be careful of who they touch or grab onto in a pool. Adults can be weak swimmers, too, and be unable to keep both themselves and a child above water.
Watch For Distractions
Your kids should know that someone should be watching them at all times, so train them to check and keep you or your partner accountable. Humans get distracted, and that includes adults, but around a pool, the ramifications could be deadly.
Use technology if you need to, but make sure you don’t go more than a minute without laying eyes on the kids under your care.
Your mind needs a break as much as your kids need a breather, so make sure everyone takes a break at designated intervals.
You might also need unscheduled breaks for bathroom trips or to answer the door, put away groceries, etc – everyone should get out of the pool every time.
Be Careful Who You Trust
Many people, including Natalie, don’t trust other people to watch their kids in the water. Her rule is that if she or her husband isn’t present, the kids wear a lifejacket.
It’s not only that she doesn’t trust them – it’s that if something terrible were to happen, she wouldn’t want the responsibility to rest with someone not their parents.
Your kids will probably whine, but trust me, they’ll get over it – especially if they know the other option is that they just don’t go.
Lifejackets Are Cool
Kids might not think so, but if you start young then they will know and abide by the rule whether they like it or not. If everyone is wearing one, so much the better, and many games in the water are easier and more fun if you’re not having to worry about treading water while you’re playing.
And by “lifejacket” she means a US Coast Guard approved lifejacket, not a noodle, inflatable, water wings, et al that can often cause as many problems as they alleviate.
Education is Key
Make sure your kids know what drowning looks like, that water is to be respected, and not to think that being a good swimmer means they’re not at risk for getting into trouble.
Drowning happens fast, and if your kids are old enough to understand mortality, they should be old enough to partner with you in keeping themselves alive.
Don’t Encourage Showboating
“Hey, watch this…” aren’t words most parents want to hear around the water. Have your kids consider whether they’re just showing you something or they’re about to do something risky, and why it’s extra important to make good decisions around the water.
See Something, Say Something
Your kids should be buddies for each other and their friends, and be able to recognize when someone is in trouble and alert an adult for help. They shouldn’t assume kids (or adults) are fooling around if they’re under water, and should sound the alarm if they don’t pop up within 5 seconds.
Some Last Thoughts
Give your kid swim lessons.
Make sure everyone has a USCG-approved life jacket.
Never swim without a lifeguard or someone designated to do nothing but watch the water.
No running around the pool.
Enter the water feet-first.
No drugs or alcohol around the water.
All water presents the opportunity to drown.
Never swim alone.
Check the water first if you can’t find a kid.
Personally, I think these are great!
Be safe out there, and have fun!