Summer is coming to an end, and as our thoughts shift to the start of the new school year, fall activities, and even the holiday season (how many shopping days left until Christmas?), the time for daily trips to the pool and beach are over. But just because you are deflating that unicorn raft, finding a spot in the garage for the endless amounts of pool toys and beach buckets, or hanging up those swim suits to dry one last time, it is important that EVERYONE continue to practice water safety!
There have been several stories in the news recently about children drowning. In June, Bode Miller, winter Olympian, and his wife tragically lost their baby girl when she fell into a friend’s pool and drowned. On that very same day in Alabama, another family experienced their own loss while on vacation at the beach. These national stories, while eye opening and heart breaking, can still often instill the “but that could never happen to me” mindset. Unfortunately, in our own community we have a family who is also grieving. Last month, in Boynton Beach, a toddler drowned in her home pool, days before she was scheduled to begin swim lessons and a month shy of her second birthday.
As an aquatic professional, these sad stories are a rude awakening that not everyone has knowledge about water safety. As a fellow mom, I never want to hear about another parent losing a child, much less in such a preventable way. So, for my first blog post, I have decided to share some tips and encourage others to continue talking about water safety year-round!
Unintentional drowning is the leading cause of death in children under the age of four. While this statistic is shocking, there are many ways we can prevent this from happening. Just in Palm Beach County alone, we have numerous bodies of water to be aware of. Drowning can happen in pools, the ocean, the intercoastal, lakes, canals, retention ponds, and any standing water that a child’s mouth and nose could be submerged in. Drowning can occur in seconds and without any struggle, splashing, or yelling for help. Parents, please take the time to follow these water safety practices.
The most important step of water safety is to be VIGILANT! When swimming always assign a WATER WATCHER, someone who’s sole responsibility is watch those swimming. This means putting the smart phone down, holding out on that drink/snack/beer/cocktail, and even limiting conversations had with those around you. Every 15-20 minutes switch with another adult to keep fresh eyes on the swimmers. Always stay within arms reach of novice, weak, and non-swimmers. If your children are using floatation devices, they should be U.S. Coast Guard approved and properly fitted.
Even when NOT swimming, it is important to still be vigilant when NEAR water. If a child ever goes missing, the first place to look should always be the pool or nearby body of water. Pool and backyard fences are a MUST for homes with children living in them. And installing a cover and locking system on spas and hot tubs can prevent children from falling in or getting trapped inside them.
Children are crafty and when there is a will, they will find a way. That pool gate that takes you five minutes to un-do and lock up, can take them mere seconds. The six-foot tall fence separating the backyard from the canal is easily scaled by moving the patio furniture and using it as a step stool. In a recent viral video, a toddler managed to climb up an above ground pool’s ladder WITH a safety cover on it! As a toddler mom myself, I am constantly wondering if my daughter is part monkey, and can 100 percent relate to the shock and terror those parents felt watching their child outsmart the “safety” cover.
Besides barriers around water, you should also check and install door and window locks. We recently just added another lock to our sliding door when we noticed our darling two-year-old managed to get past the safety toggle, lock, and remove the wooden stick from the track on the floor. Alarms attached to your doors and windows are also suggested to prevent small children from wandering out unnoticed. There are even pool alarms on the market that will sound when someone enters the water or falls in. And don’t forget to make those vacation rentals safe! There are many products that are cheap enough and easy to remove so you can take with you while you are on vacation.
Prevention is always the goal when discussing water safety but knowing what to do in an emergency is just as important. All parents and caretakers should take CPR and First Aid training courses. Knowing how to check for signs of life, when to treat vs. when to call, and how to give proper, effective breaths and compressions, can make the difference between life and death. Visit the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or local hospital websites for CPR course offerings.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a conversation about water safety without mentioning SWIM LESSONS. We are so lucky to live in a community that has so many options for learning to swim. You can choose to do in-home private swim lessons, group lessons at the local community pool or YMCA, or even Infant Swimming Resource (ISR). While budget can be the number one factor when choosing a swim lesson program, it should NEVER be the reason a child does not learn to swim. While ISR and in-home private lessons run higher in pricing, group lessons at community pools are often very budget friendly. All options help children become safer in the water, and in the end that is the number one goal. There are also many options for scholarships from national organizations such as the Live Like Jake Foundation, and even the Palm Beach County Drowning Prevention Coalition.
So even though you may be thinking about that pumpkin spice latte or cooler weather. . . ok, ok, PRAYING for cooler weather, don’t let your guard down. Drowning knows NO season!