Summer is quickly approaching, which means water fun is right around the corner. And while splashing on the beach or swimming laps in the pool are great ways to cool down and to exercise, the water can be dangerous, especially for young children.
Statistics are sobering: drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 4, and the second leading cause of accidental death for children ages 5 to 14, says Kyle Kamman, senior director of program strategy and implementation of aquatics at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Even more sobering: two children drown every day, and African-American children are three times more likely to drown than their white peers.
Kamman offers these tips to help keep you and your kids safe around the water during summer months:
Adult supervision is vital
Kamman says 88 percent of kids who drown are under adult supervision, and 60 percent drown within 10 feet of safety. “Adult supervision means actively paying attention and engaging with the children,” he says. “Put down the cellphone and ignore everything else to pay attention.”
Drowning is silent
“In the movies, people who are drowning are splashing and yelling for help,” he says. “But most of the time, drowning happens at the surface of the water or just below. An adult could be feet away and not know the child is drowning.”
Reinforce the rules
If you have a home pool, it’s important your children and their friends know the pool rules, he says. “Children should know they can’t get into the water without permission and without an adult outside, and they should know not to horseplay or roughhouse in the water, and they should never dive in head first unless the water is at least 9 feet deep and in a designated diving area.”
Keep your pool safe
The pool should have a fence or gate around it. There are also alarm systems that sound if anything enters the water while the alarm is on, he says.
“Dry drowning” is real
If your child has a near-drowning event and needs to be pulled from the water, secondary drowning, also known as dry drowning, can still be a threat. “Up to 24 hours after a child has had a near drowning event, part of the throat can spasm and stay shut, so you can suffocate even when you leave the pool,” he says. “If you’re concerned by something that’s happened in the water, go seek medical attention. Your child might need to be observed for 24 hours after the fact.”
Be vigilant during pool parties
Everyone loves a summer pool party, but when large groups of children get together, disaster can strike – especially if some in the group are non-swimmers. Kamman says pool owners should insist non-swimmers wear Coast Guard-approved floatation devices. Devices known as puddle-jumpers, which go around the arms and the body, can be purchased at any big-box store for about $20, he says. Pool parties should also have adults dedicated to watching the pool, and not distracted by friends or their phones. He also recommended a low ratio of swimmers to watchful adults. “At the Y, we follow the ratio of one lifeguard to 25 kids,” he says. “But that should fluctuate based on the situation, and that ratio should be less if there are less experienced swimmers in the water.”
Swimming lessons save lives
Kamman says statistics show that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by more than 88 percent, and the more swimming lessons you have, the better. If you feel like you can’t afford lessons, remember group lessons are less expensive than one-on-one lessons. And the YMCA can offer financial assistance to those who might not be able to afford them otherwise. “There’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of drowning, but lessons help,” he says. “Even Michael Phelps, the great Olympic swimmer, isn’t drown-proof.”
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