»By Nora Heston
With summer on the horizon, water safety is a big topic in Arizona. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Grand Canyon State has one of the highest drowning rates in the country.
The good news is that there are steps parents can take to reduce risk of drowning or near-drowning incidents. Informing yourself, talking with your children and practicing good water safety habits are all important for lowering water-related incidents. Always remember the ABC’s of water safety: Adult Supervision, Barriers and Classes.
As a parent, there are practices you can implement that will help keep your children safe around water.
“Parents must provide layers of protection to protect their children around water,” says Lana Whitehead, founder of SWIMkids USA. “Barriers such as fences and pool covers should be installed around or over the pool. Children should be enrolled in formal swim lessons once they can walk. The parents should learn CPR and first aid. Finally, they should practice ‘touch supervision’ where the caregiver is within arm’s reach of any child in or around the water.”
Swim lessons can do more than teach your child the difference between a breaststroke and a doggy paddle. According to research conducted at the National Institute of Health by Ruth Brenner, participation in formal swimming lessons provided an 88 percent reduction in risk of drowning for children ages 1 to 4 and “should be considered for inclusion as part of a complete prevention program.”
“The goal for water safety lessons is to prepare the child for an emergency situation if he/she falls in the water accidentally,” Whitehead says. “When a child learns to hold his/her breathe, kick to the surface and then roll over onto his/her back, he/she can rest, breathe and call or yell for help.”
Bob Hubbard, owner of Hubbard Swim School, says it’s important to get children in the pool as early as possible.
“I believe the best thing to do is get the parents, grandparents or caregivers in the water with the baby in a class,” Hubbard says. This practice not only familiarizes children with the water, but teaches guardians how to handle their children in the water as well. In fact, Hubbard suggests parent-child classes before instructor-driven classes. “At a very young age the child’s most trusted relationship is with the parent or caregiver and not an instructor,” he notes.
Hubbard Swim School offers free 30-minute classes for parents and their child starting at two months of age through five months of age, limited to one free class per week. The school’s Baby Splash classes are a good place to start—they focus on floating and moving in the water with mom or dad without submersion.
Whitehead recommends introduction to the water at 3 to 4 months of age. To support this, SWIMKids also offers Baby Swim classes free to children 2 to 7 months of age.
Formal swim lessons
vs. at-home teaching
Some parents choose to teach their children to swim at home, but there may be more benefits associated with formal swim lessons.
Socially, formal swim lessons allow children to step outside of their comfort zone and experience new activities with other children. Having these experiences in a group helps children develop socially and develop self-esteem, learning where they fit in with their peers.
“Swim class has abundant opportunities to share space with other children and explore movement together,” Whitehead says. “A child begins to recognize his own uniqueness and the uniqueness of others. He cooperates within a group structure to learn and becomes involved in creating and enjoying moving together. This strengthens his emotional confidence.”
If you choose to teach your children to swim at home, cover all of your bases. Whitehead says breath control, submersion, floating, propulsion and water safety skills are the most important for children to learn.
To ensure your child is taking advantage of all of the benefits swimming has to offer, make sure the lessons stay fun! “If a child is having fun, his brain is more receptive to learning,” Whitehead says.
Additionally, offering praise for the completion of simple tasks, such as swimming to the steps, floating and paddling will help your child not only enjoy their time learning to swim, but will also help them to build self esteem.
Swimming at home
Water safety goes beyond informing yourself. It’s also important to have a conversation with your children about how to conduct themselves around water – including pools, lakes and oceans.
Children need to know that they should never enter a pool area alone, always swim with adult supervision, and learn appropriate behaviors around the pool, such as no running, waiting for an adult to invite you into the pool and knowing the depth of the water, Hubbard says.
Hubbard gives these additional tips for swimming at home with kids:
Let children play on the steps
Stay nearby and if their head goes under or if they step off and are not able to swim, be sure to calmly guide them back to the steps or to the wall. Do not be dramatic with your assistance.
Encourage underwater exploration
Research tells us that the more comfortable a child is under water, the more relaxed of a swimmer they become. When your swimmer pushes off the wall or steps to you, let them swim for two seconds before rolling them at the third count. Play underwater games to encourage underwater swimming.
Do not put your swimmer in floaties
Floaties ruin the goal of teaching your child to swim with their head down and their bottoms up and destroys any sense of balance and trust for the water. Opt for life jackets when necessary.
When teaching children to roll over and float, give them a brief chance to initiate the roll over
Let the child swim for a few seconds off the wall or step, then yell “roll over,” (you might be surprised on that day when they really do it without your help). After you have announced the roll over, help them roll and then pick them up. Be consistent – they will eventually roll over by themselves and you will have a safe swimmer.
The benefits of early swim lessons don’t stop at water safety.
“Recent research confirms that a young child’s cognitive development can be accelerated by early aquatic activity,” Whitehead says. Griffith University conducted research using more than 45 swim schools, and 7,000 children, across Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Preliminary results showed that children ages 4 and under involved in formal swim lessons were more advanced in their cognitive and physical development than their non-swimming peers. The results showed more marginal benefits to social development and language acquisition as well.
The study stated that children who participate in early-years swimming appear to be achieving many milestones earlier than the normal population – across areas of physical, cognitive and language development – regardless of social background or gender; intensive testing of children using internationally-recognized tests confirmed that swimming children often performed significantly better than the normal population across many measures of physical, cognitive, social and linguistic measures; and many of the skills that the early-years children are scoring well on have value in schooling and other areas of learning so they are likely to be better prepared for the transition to school.
Pool Fencing & Other Safety Features
By Nancy Dastrup of Arizona Childproofers
It is important to have a fence around the pool for several reasons – one huge reason is if there is ever an emergency, you can get everyone out of the pool and gate quickly. The most commonly recommended type of pool fence is one with a self-closing/self-latching gate. Consider removable mesh pool barriers. A 5-foot fence is recommended. Iron fences are good, but children can often shimmy up and over them. Nets have their place but we find that they are not practical for families that have young children and/or use the pool several times a day. Many people take them off for the day, which is dangerous, and others have told me that they just don’t use their pool that often because they are a pain to remove. (According to International Association of Child Safety, nets are not recommended). Alarms in the pool are sensitive to movement and the wind or birds set it off, desensitizing parents to the ring. Turtle wrist alarms are a good tool, as are a proper fitting life vest (not floaties). Door locks and door alarms to the outside pool area are a great additional “layer of protection.”
Swimming lessons each year increase safety. Do not EVER prop the gate to the pool open. If there is a pet door that leads to a pool area, close and lock it. Be sure all doors leading out of the house are secure.