For many families, when you talk about summer you are talking about time outside, vacations, and playdates with friends – freedom and sunshine (or planning and stress depending on how you look at it haha). Either way a lot of our summer fun includes a fun activity with hidden danger – Swimming. As the temperature heats up, we start heading to the local pool, setting one up outside or going to the lake. Often, when we go on vacation, we try to find somewhere with a lake nearby, a hotel with a pool, or a vacation rental with a hot tub. Water is all around us and happens to be a universal source of fun for kids and adults. But, with all the fun, we can often forget that water is incredibly dangerous – for children ages 1-4, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death and primarily happens in pools or hot tubs. Regardless of the growing popularity of floaties (puddle jumpers), this statistic has not changed at all. A large reason for this is that 70% of drownings happen when parents think their child is done swimming or don’t expect them to be in the water. There are 5 layers of protection around water that are widely accepted as being effective:
- ACTIVE Adult Supervision
- High Quality Swim Lessons
- CPR Training
**(Around Lakes or Rivers, we also add Life Jackets but these are not considered to be a layer of protection around pools) **
Without a doubt the most effective form of protection for any child around water is active adult supervision. Here I am going to discuss exactly what that means, how to implement touch supervision around water and how to start a Water Watcher plan to decrease the risk of drowning for your family! I will even include a FREE printable Water Watcher card that you can use to support your plan.
So, what is “Active” Adult Supervision and why is it the best layer of protection you can offer? Active supervision starts before you ever leave home. Make sure that there are limited distractions by putting sunscreen and swimsuits on early, I usually do this with my littlest kids at the car before we even get to the locker room. Also always make sure you have a supervision plan and enough adults to keep an eye on the children most at risk for a drowning accident. Children that need one on one supervision from an adult include:
- Children between the ages of 1-4
- Non swimming kids of ANY age
If you are taking an infant or child that falls under this list, they are at elevated risk of drowning and they should always be within arm’s length of a responsible adult. This is called “Touch Supervision” and significantly reduces the risk of severe accident. Think of it as the same principle you would use at any busy place: Disneyland, the County Fair, or a parade. A study done in 2014 found that how close an adult physically is to a child (proximity) is directly connected to that child’s level of injury risk and that, if a child is in an accident, the level of adult supervision on a scale of 1-10 (1:Low, 10:High) is correlated to the severity of the child’s injury and their need to be hospitalized. (, et al Supervision and risk of unintentional injury in young children
Creating a habit of using touch supervision around water can be challenging, especially if all adults aren’t on board or if your children have gotten used to being in floaties. I highly recommend taking kids to the pool individually to build this habit. Allow them to explore and find boundaries in a situation that is less stressful for both of you. Teach them to stay close to you and ask before going somewhere else. If they want to go in the water where they cannot touch to jump, allow them to go underwater and either help them float back to the side or pick them up (depending on their age and skill level). Let them see for themselves what they are capable of and what they may need help with. Kids learn quickly and learn even faster when they are one-to-one with an adult they love.
Even with an effective touch supervision plan in place, accidents happen. When you have multiple adults at the pool, it can be easy to assume that someone would see if anything went wrong but that isn’t the case. As Nicole Hughes, who lost her son Levi (3) to drowning, says, “When ‘everybody’s watching the kid, then nobody’s watching (How to Keep Children Safe Around Water and Prevent Drowning – The New York Times (nytimes.com)).” This is where a Water Watcher comes in. Each adult takes a 10 -15 minute shift where they have a lanyard, wristband, or some other identifier that shows that they are the water watcher on duty. While they are on duty the water watcher:
- Is not eating, on their phone, or otherwise distracted
- Keeps a phone nearby for emergencies
- Is watching the water for any child in distress and
- Switches with another adult at the end of their time
You just print out our water watcher pdf, laminate it, attach it to a lanyard, keychain, wristband, or whatever you have chosen to use and put it in your swim bag. Then whenever you are meeting friends at the lake or the pool (even if there is a lifeguard) you pull it out to use.
Now, if you have gotten this far you might be thinking to yourself: Wow, this sounds really complicated, I think I will just stick with the puddle jumper. I get it. While I have never used floaties for my kids, I understand the desire to simplify your life so that you can just have fun with your kids. I cannot even begin to list all the things I have bought so that I can spend less time worrying and more time enjoying motherhood. But, before you do, these are some important principles to understand
- You should never put your child in something that is not Coast Guard approved. The only floaty that is Coast Guard approved is a Puddle Jumper and it is rated as the very lowest level of protection and is not rated for pool use.
- While Puddle Jumpers are marketed as a safe way to “learn to swim” they do not teach correct body balance in the water and should NEVER replace formal swim lessons. (Member/Partner Advocacy Campaign: No Floaties Campaign – Judah Brown Project – NDPA)
- The NDPA advises that you “Don’t put your child back into a puddle jumper or similar swim aid after they have learned to swim, because the devices will unteach them all of the skills they have learned in lessons”
- You need to supervise your child with a flotation device the same way you would without it – always using touch supervision. If your child is using a floatation device in a pool as a non-swimmer they should not be swimming away from you or going off a diving board.
Combining touch supervision with a water watcher on duty drastically reduces your child’s risk of drowning without teaching bad habits. To better do this, here is a FREE printable card that you can laminate and put in your swim bag! Click on the image below to download 🙂
Let us know what questions you have in the comments!!