Water Wise

Teaching children about water safety must be on the wish list of every parent.

In the US we take healthy and non-contaminated water for granted. In many parts of the world clean water is not available. Throughout the world, thousands of children die every day due to water-related illness and chemical contamination. Germs, nitrates, man-made chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive particles shorten or end the lives of so many children. Teaching your child the importance of clean water and helping others throughout the world obtain clean water are two of the most important lessons a parent can teach a child.

The ability to be naturally safe around water is another skill parents must model and teach their child from infancy to young adulthood. In the US almost 4,000 people die every year due to drowning. Over half of these deaths occur in children, and children between the ages of 1 and 5 years are at greatest risk. Home swimming pools pose the greatest risk to children under school age, and 80% of those who drown are males. Drowning is the second most common cause of death due to injuries for children under 14 years of age.

Swimming pools must have appropriate fencing that is at least 54 inches tall and have a functioning, self-latching gate that can be locked. Keep all ladders and objects away from the enclosure to prevent children from climbing over the gate or fence.  Choose a swimming pool cover that fits your pool and limits the risk of entrapment. Keep all pool related toys away from the pool when the pool is not in use. Toys attract children and increase the risk for a child inadvertently falling into the pool while trying to retrieve a toy. Make certain the pool your child is swimming in has been treated with the right amount of chemicals, and no matter where your child swims it is a good idea to avoid swallowing the water. Have your child shower with soap and water after swimming in untreated water since many recreational water illnesses including diarrhea and infections of the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract are spread in the water in which your child swims.

There should be no diving, pushing or chasing on pool decks. It is too easy to slip and fall on slick surfaces. Children must walk and never run around a pool and should always enter the pool slowly and feet first. If a child is not water-safe, an approved life jacket must be worn. Children under school age must wear a jacket that has a strap between the legs. For all children the life jacket must fit tightly enough so it does not pull up over the shoulders while at the same time does not limit breathing. In 90% of boating deaths a life jacket is not worn.

Every child should learn how to be water-safe. For the toddler and preschooler this means being able to back-float face up before learning how to swim in a face down position with a crawl swim stroke. This face up position decreases fear and panic and allows your young child to breathe and call for help.

Children must also learn about the importance of adult supervision, a buddy system, understanding and following posted regulations, and at all times listening to and following the directions of lifeguards.  Learning how to “read” the water and the weather are also important skills, as is CPR training for the older child.

When supervising children around water, alcohol use and all distractions such as a cell phone must be avoided. Stay at the water’s edge, count the children under your care frequently and briefly focus on each child while you scan back and forth over the area where they are swimming. Keep the swimming area small enough for you to remain “in touch” with each child. If a child’s behavior or play activity is placing other children at risk then have all the children under your care exit the water until you are able to resolve the issue with that child. Once the safety issue has been resolved you may allow the children to return to the water. Accidents often happen when a parent becomes distracted. Don’t allow this to happen to you.

Natural bodies of water such as ponds, creeks and streams carry their own risks. Small bodies of water can be especially dangerous since children are often not afraid to be near or enter them. In addition to the wind, weather, waves, currents, undertow and riptides that we see with lakes and oceans these smaller bodies of water often have many natural and man-made obstacles including currents, rocks, broken glass, entangling vegetation and mud. Fast flowing culverts, creeks and streams are especially dangerous due to the risk of fallen trees and branches that act as strainers that can entrap even the strongest swimmer.  When entering a body of water with waves it is important you enter and exit slowly and always face the waves. If you see a storm or hear or see lightening you must immediately exit the water and seek shelter.

When you teach your child to be water wise you are providing your child with skills they will model for other children and their own children. Water wise is water safe.