Many parents have asked me about water safety for their child and “survival swimming.” It shouldn’t be suprising since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years, despite a steady decline in drowning rates over the last 20 years. I want to give you some general guidelines and thoughts to help you get your arms around what is obviously a stressful and very real event.
As a father of a 17 month old little girl, I am as concerned as you are. But please recognize that swimming lessons are only one part of a strategy to keep your child safe and secure around the water. No child is drown-proof; Michael Phelps isn’t drown proof. Don’t be deluded that you can off-load water safety onto your child. While we teach critical safety skills and technique in our swim classes, safety is a four-pronged strategy.
- Constant Supervision Consider yourself your child’s primary lifeguard — never assume that somone is watching your child. Always know where your children are, especially around water. Maintain constant eye contact and bodily contact if they are in the water. Even for older children, stay within arm’s reach. Teach your child never to go in or near the water without permission from a parent or caregiver. If your child is missing and you are near a pool or other body of water, check the pool or body of water first. Make sure that you, your spouse, and other caregivers can swim. Make sure grandparents and caregivers know the importance of supervision. Take the same care to make sure you supervise baths, keep the lid down on the toilets, and monitor other bodies of water, no matter how small. Finally, do not drink alcohol when supervising children
- Barriers If you own a pool or live near a body of water, you need to do your best to restrict unsupervised access. Check local and statewide codes for specific requirements, but some basic strategies include:
- Close and Lock all Entrances — Keep all entrances from the house to the pool, spa, or other body of water closed and locked. Install an exta lock at least 54 inches above the floor on doors leading to the pool or other bodies of water. Whatever you do use, your child should not be able to reach or open it
- Door Alarms — Exit doors from the house to the pool or other bodies of water can be protected by alarms
- Pool Fence — A mesh type fence at least 48 inches tall should completely surround the pool. Gates to the fence should be self-closing, self-latching, and should be locked when a parent or caregiver is not present
- Pool Alarms — Pool alarms can float on the surface of the water or on the side to detect motion or a mass in the water
- Safety Pool Cover — These types of covers are electronically controlled and totally isolate the pool
- Perimeter Yard Fence — A perimeter yard fence or wall can be installed to limit unauthorized access from the outside. The fence or wall should be at least 4 feet tall with a self-closing, self-latching gate. The latch should be out of reach of a child, kept shut, and checked to ensure it is in working order
- CPR and Basic Water Safety You should get certified in Infant/Child CPR and prepare an Emergency Action Plan for your home. Keep a phone by your pool in case of emergencies. Familiarize yourself with nationally recognized pool safety standards and teach your children all the pool and water safety rules. If you are on a boat, make sure you child is wearing a life-jacket no matter how good a swimmer you think he or she is
- Swimming Safety Skills These safety skills act as a supplement to supervision and barriers. And though it is the responsibility of the adult to ensure the safety of the child, lapses in supervision can and do occur. With proper pre-requisites, training, and continued practice, the potential exists for the following:
- At 8 months a child can begin to hold his breath and propel himself in the water. This skill can buy a few extra seconds if the child enters the water unsupervised
- At 19 months a child can learn to return to the side of the pool (at 24 months with ease and confidence)
- At 2 1/2 years, a child can begin to learn to recover for a breath
- At 3 1/2 years, a child can begin to learn to back float and roll from front to back and back to front (NOTE: Most children up to this age are not comfortable with back floating. DO NOT FORCE IT!)