How to keep your kids safe in the water

June 30, 2016 | by Jennifer McNulty, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Summer is here and most kids will be spending time at the pool. While your kids enjoy these carefree summer days, water safety needs to be top of mind.

Nearly 1,000 kids die each year by drowning. It is the number two cause of accidental death in children ages 15 and under. What’s worse, in 10 percent of drownings, adults are nearby and will actually watch it happen without realizing it.

This is because drowning does not look like drowning. The waving, splashing and yelling you see on TV is rarely seen in real life. In fact, drowning is almost always deceptively quiet. It can happen quickly, even in the presence of lifeguards.

Frank Pia, Ph.D. coined the term the “instinctive drowning response,” to describe how an individual automatically behaves when drowning or close to drowning.

The drowning person may look like they are casually treading water and looking up at you. In reality, their mouth is alternately sinking above and below the water’s surface, but not long enough to breathe or call out for help. This struggle will only last from 20 to 60 seconds before the person goes under the water.

Since drowning does not look like you expect it to, how do you know if it’s happening?

One way to tell if someone is drowning is to ask them “are you okay?” If they can’t answer or if they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them.

Also, look for these signs of drowning:

  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy, empty, unable to focus, or closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs—vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but getting nowhere
  • Trying to roll over on their back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

Moms, remember that children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, go to them immediately and find out why!

There are other types of drowning that can happen out of the water — called dry and secondary drowning. Dry drowning, in which water is swallowed and enters the airway, usually happens within minutes after a child is pulled from the water. In secondary drowning, water actually enters the lungs, and signs of distress may not be apparent for hours or up to a day. Here are warning signs to look for:

  • Coughing, chest discomfort
  • Rapid shallow breathing, shortness of breath
  • Sleepiness, fatigue
  • Forgetfulness or change in behavior
  • Vomiting

It’s important to watch your child closely during the 24 hours after a close call in the water. Although dry and secondary drowning are uncommon — accounting for only about 1 to 2 percent of drowning incidents — if you notice any symptoms, get your child help right away. Don’t wait!

Here are some tips to keep your kids safe in and around water:

  • Closely supervise your child at all times – Keep your eyes on your child at all times while they’re in and around water. Never leave your child unattended or in the care of another young child! With infants, toddlers and weak swimmers, you should be within an arm’s length. Small children can drown in as little as one inch of water. Even with older children, don’t rely on the lifeguard — your child needs your undivided attention.
  • Use proper safety devices – Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets around water. All children should wear a life jacket when riding on a boat. Arm floaties and air-filled tubes can deflate and aren’t designed for safety.
  • Select swimming areas carefully – When you’re at a beach or a lake, make sure your child swims only in areas designated for swimming with lifeguards present. Be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.
  • Teach safety basics - Teach your child the safety rules such as: no running near a pool, always ask permission before going in the water, and never play or swim near drains or suction outlets. Don’t allow your child to jump in the water until you know its depth and any underwater hazards.
  • Safeguard your pool – Owning a pool is a major responsibility. You’ll need to know where your child is at all times. Install a 4-5 feet high, four-sided fence or gate around your pool or hot tub. The gate should open out and be self-closing and self-latching. Equip it (and any doors that lead to the pool area) with a lock and alarm. Cover your pool with a rigid safety cover when you're not using it. Immediately empty and store inflatable pools out of children’s reach.
  • Designate a pool watcher during parties – Gatherings with multiple adults and kids around a pool can be dangerous. People think somebody else is watching because there are so many people. Designate an adult to ONLY watch the pool — no socializing, eyes on the water at all times. When you take turns, get another adult’s verbal okay before you step away.
  • Enroll your child in swim lessons – Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among young children. Make sure everyone in your family learns to swim as well. Find a swimming class at Edward-Elmhurst.
  • Be prepared for an emergency – Have a phone close by in case you need to call for help. Parents and caregivers should take a first aid and CPR course to learn how to prevent and respond to emergencies. Find a CPR/first aid course at Edward-Elmhurst.

It’s up to you to keep your child safe in the water. Take the necessary precautions so you and your family enjoy a safe and fun summer.

Learn more about water safety from the American Red Cross.

Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness offers a variety of children’s aquatics classes for all ages. The summer session is from June 13 - August 6. Open registration for new students begins Tuesday, June 7 at 8 a.m. Call 630-646-7940 to register or for more information.

Explore aquatics services at Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness.

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