It happened in an instant. My daughter, Molly, was only two-years old and I hadn’t taught her any water safety rules.
We were visit my sister and her family in San Diego. Molly played with a ball while my sister and I were talking in her fenced front yard.
All of a sudden, I realized we no longer saw or heard Molly. I immediately started shouting, “Molly, Molly” and then I saw it.
The side gate to the back of the house – and the swimming pool – had been left open. I took the stairs three at a time and found my toddler standing at the edge of the pool.
My heart pounded and I felt such relief knowing my daughter was okay. However, I still have intense guilt over what could have happened.
Needless to say, Molly wore a life jacket outside for the rest of our visit anytime we were outside. She is still a non-swimmer and we continue to put her in a life jacket whenever we are near water.
That one moment showed me how important it is to teach our children water safety rules.
Molly has finally begun swimming lessons and is on her way to becoming water competent. But I’ve read similar stories online about toddlers wandering away from their parents.
Sadly, most of those stories have much worse outcomes. These stories have themes like “my child was right there playing on my phone and in an instant, he was gone.” Other stories involve trips with family members and friends who are emergency room doctors where “no amount of CPR could save my three year old.”
It is absolutely critical that parents understand the risks of drowning and teach their children about water safety rules. Your child’s life depend on it.
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In the United States about 10 people die every day from drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 1-14 right behind car accidents. Non-fatal drowning injuries can cause serious brain injuries and long-term disabilities.
Drowning doesn’t just happen in pools or lakes – the bath tub is a big risk too. Annually about 87 children drown inside the home and two-thirds of those are in the bath tub.
Bath tub drowning can happen in as little as a few inches of water. Children can slip underwater in the 10 seconds you take to dart to the linen closet for a towel. In the 4 minutes it takes you to use the bathroom or answer the front door, a child could have already drown or suffered a severe brain injury.
MYTHS ABOUT DROWNING
There are a few common myths circulating among parents regarding their children’s drowning risks.
“My child is a good swimmer.”
Even children on the swimming team who qualify for elite events have sadly drown in the shallow end of the pool. Strong swimmers can absolutely drown with lifeguards around. There is no substitute for excellent supervision.
“I’ll hear my child.”
Drowning is usually silent. Children’s heads are disproportionately larger than the rest of their body and they often just sink. Or they are instinctively trying to preserve energy so they will not call out for help.
“I only put several inches of water in the bathtub.”
It only takes an inch or two of water to cover the nose and mouth of children, especially if they slipped in soapy bath water and hit their heads.
“I check every few minutes.”
As mentioned above, drowning can happen in less than one minute with serious brain damage practically guaranteed in four minutes.
WATER SAFETY RULES FOR KIDS
The most important rule for water safety still lies with adults: never leave your child unsupervised near any amount of water for any amount of time.
Nonetheless, you should still teach your children about water safety. Here are ten water safety rules for your children.
1. Walk near water
The pool deck and the bathroom floor can be slippery. It’s important to use slow and safe walking feet even when excited. Otherwise your children could hit their heads and develop a serious injury.
2. Wear a life jacket
If your child is a non-swimmer or a new swimmer, it is prudent to wear a life jacket or puddle jumpers in the pool every time. Pool noodles and arm floaties are not approved safety devices and can provide a false sense of security. Near natural bodies of water like rivers, lakes or the ocean, life jackets are the smart decision.
3. Ask permission to get in the water
Your child should always ask permission from you to approach or enter the water. They should be taught never to turn on the bathwater or the hose without your expressed permission.
4. Have an adult watch the children
There needs to be an adult in the event of an emergency. Constant, uninterrupted and undistracted adult supervision is non-negotiable.
5. Go in the water in feet first
Diving in head first can cause serious head injuries. It is important to ask lifeguards if diving is okay and look for posted signs. It’s better to always jump in feet first. Never dive into a shallow end of a pool or a body of water with an unknown depth.
6. Swim with a buddy
This goes along with always ask permission, but it is important to reiterate that a child should never be in the water without someone else. If your child is a non-swimmer, it should be a competent adult with sound judgement.
If your child can swim and is extremely responsible with sound judgement, a buddy system can work to alert near adults when something is wrong.
7. Don’t swim in moving water
Teach your children that water with a current can be unpredictable. While there are definitely slow moving areas that are safe, children should be taught rivers, streams, and creeks are off limits.
Of course, if your child asks permission (rule #3) and you know it’s safe, then there is a clear exception to this rule. There can be safe, life-guarded areas that are safe exceptions. Nonetheless, adult supervision and a lifejacket still are the safest choices for any natural body of water with a current.
8. Stay in designated area
Teach your children to look for the designated markings. At pools, teach your child to read the signs that demonstrate the depth of the water. Make sure your child understands that a lane marker or lane rope with float in a pool is not a toy to hang on but instead a boundary to respect.
9. Get out when you are tired
Drowning can occur when someone is too tired to make it back to shore or to the side of the pool. Set a time limit for swimming with your children and have them get out of the pool before they are too tired.
10. No horseplay
Adolescents are at a great risk of drowning when participating in horse play. They can dunk one another in a playful way but not realize when a peer is struggling.
Model this yourself as a adult. Resist the temptation to toss your child around in the water. It is important that small children have a sense of their own body autonomy so they can set and defend boundaries with peers when they get older.
PRINTABLE WATER SAFETY RULES FOR CHILDREN
You are the key to keeping your children safe around the water: understand the drowning risks for your children, provide strong supervision for your children around water, and teach them these rules to stay safe.