Every summer the number of drowning incidents involving children skyrockets as more families spend the warmer months hanging out by the pool, at the beach or at a nearby lake. One common mistake that many parents make that can lead to a drowning incident is allowing young children to use pool floats and wear water wings in the pool. While life jackets are designed to save a child from drowning and should always be worn near open bodies of water like lakes or the ocean, flotation devices and wings can slip out of a child’s grasp or fall off and give a false sense of safety. Goggles are another widely sold pool accessory that parents should avoid with their children.
There are many theories today on what age a child should learn to swim and what techniques should be used to teach swimming. While all parents will have their own preferences and beliefs, there are a few recommendations experts agree should be followed to help avoid a drowning incident. The United States Swim School Association, (USSSA), the preeminent swim school organization in the country, advises parents to follow the guidelines below when teaching their children to swim.
• Never allow your baby/toddler in the pool without a swim diaper, and create a process the child must go through before entering a pool, such as putting on the diaper, a swimsuit, and applying sunscreen. Having a pool routine will teach your child that the pool cannot simply be jumped into at anytime and it can help reduce the chances that your child might be tempted to try to go swimming without you being aware.
• When you are at the pool, do not allow your child to be the one to decide when to enter the water. Create a verbal cue for your child that must be given by you before he or she can enter the pool. This creates an additional barrier of entry for your child if used consistently. He or she will learn that jumping into the pool requires permission first.
• Never use floatation devices or water wings when teaching kids to swim. This can create a false sense of security around water. Instead, teach children how to locate, swim to and then climb hand-over-hand along the pool wall to a step or ladder where a safe exit can be made from the pool.
• Don’t always use goggles with your kids in the pool. Teach them to open their eyes under the water so if they fall in they can open their eyes and find the side or a step and leave the pool safely.
• Do not panic and transfer feelings of fear to your child if his or face dips below the surface of the pool. For very young children, practice having them put their entire face under water in the bathtub and blow bubbles to build their comfort with water.
Additionally, the USSSA recommends that parents adhere to several standard water safety precautions including: keeping children under constant supervision, enrolling children in swimming lessons, knowing CPR, having pool fences and barriers installed.
By Sue Mackie, Executive Director, United States Swim School Association. To find a USSSA affiliated swim school, visit: http://www.usswimschools.org