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Water Safety for Kids

14 Jul 2014 – 04:21 PM EDT

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It only took one second. I turned to get a towel and my toddler jumped overboard.

Just a few minutes earlier, my son was happily jumping from the pontoon with his father catching him in the water. When it was time for a break, I took off his life vest and turned to get a towel. I had always been conscious about water safety, but there he was, struggling in the water and I was screaming for someone to get him out. In my moment of panic, it didn’t occur to me to jump in. Fortunately, my niece pulled my thrashing son to the surface. After a few coughs and sputters, he was fine.

My kids are now teens, and no matter the age, I still preach safety around the water because accidents can happen at any age.

Add the Swimming Skill

The sooner you can teach your child to swim, the more you’ll improve the odds for water safety. Babies have a “swim” and “dive” reflex that allows them to naturally hold their breath underwater. This reflex begins to weaken after six months of age. Use a gentle approach when introducing your baby or child to water–encourage a sense of fun, not fear. Swimming is a skill that can be developed at any age– the key is to find an instructor or teacher that your child is comfortable with.

Buddy System

Whenever you’re around water, pair up a buddy with your baby or child to make sure someone is keeping an eye on them at all times. Pair a strong swimmer with a weaker one. If there are many children around water at once, do frequent buddy checks to ensure that everyone is accounted for.

Be Aware of the Water Around You

How deep is the water you’re swimming in? Are there any undercurrents or riptides? Are there any submerged objects or changing depths? Be aware before you swim, and especially before allowing any child to dive off a surface. If you’re swimming at a beach or river and become caught in a rip current, teach your child to swim with the current until it releases, not against the current.

Personal Flotation Devices

Purchase a life vest that fits your child snugly. A loose device will not provide the safety needed to stay afloat or your baby/child might slip out of it while in the water. Of the three types of personal flotation devices, the most appropriate one for infants and small children is a Type II device, which is a jacket with three, four, or five buckles. Be aware that this type of device may not turn over an unconscious child in the water, but it has the most comfortable fit and movement. Always test the personal flotation device on your child in a safe area of water before venturing into deeper water or on a boat.

Extra Layers of Safety

Add a fence around a pool and/or a pool safety cover. Pool alarms can alert you to a disturbance in the water but may not be sensitive enough to detect a small toddler slipping in. Remove toys from the pool and ladder access. Keep away from drains–the strong suction can trap a baby or child.

Empty five-gallon buckets. It only takes a second for a toddler to lean over and fall in.

Have a plan and let everyone know what to do in any “if this happens then do this” situations around water.

My kids are all teens today but we still apply the safety tips around water. Of course, as a mom, I can finally sit back in the boat and relax now!