Water safety for young children

Saturday July 27, 2013

It’s summer, it’s hot -- everyone’s swimming! Whether in a pool, pond, river, or even the tub, children and adults alike are enjoying the fun and relief of spending time in water. What better time to take a moment and renew our attention and commitment to keeping our children safe while they enjoy the many benefits of water play.

Earlier this summer, the Winston Prouty Center called Windham Child Care Association with an invitation to collaborate on offering a Water Safety Training by Scott Noyes. The organizations worked together to offer the class to early childhood educators as well as parents. I wasn’t able to attend, but the following week I spoke with an attendee who said it was a thought-provoking and important two hours.

In preparation for this column, and perhaps more importantly as a parent, I decided to look into the course myself. I checked out Scott’s website and was pleased to see a link for a free online water safety course. The following are some excerpts that I found particularly useful:

Drowning in the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-14 in the United States.

Children can drown in less than an inch of water. The amount of water it takes to cover the oral and nasal passages is quite shallow when a child is horizontal. Anywhere young children have access to water, including the toilet, they should be supervised. Many children have drowned in situations where the adult didn’t know the situation was dangerous. ninety percent of the time, the incident occurs less than 30 feet from help.

It’s not only pools and lakes that require constant supervision, but anywhere that water collects: bathtubs and toilets; buckets and pails, especially 5-gallon buckets; garbage cans,coolers with melted ice; irrigation ditches, post holes, and wells; hot tubs, spas, and whirlpools; fish tanks; fish ponds, landscape ponds, and fountains; floating pool covers that can prevent a child from surfacing after being submerged as well as closed pool covers which can have drowning water on the surface. Waving, splashing, and yelling during drowning (as shown on television and in movies) is rarely seen in real life. It is silent and quick. While an adult may struggle for up to 60 seconds, a young child can drown in less than 20 seconds. Because of the "Instinctive Drowning Response" (Google that), the victim’s arms and hands are pushing down on the water surface try to bob for air. Hand waving and attention-grabbing splashing isn’t usually possible. Many people have drowned because possible rescuers didn’t recognize the bobbing actions as drowning behaviors.

Because victims are struggling to breathe, there is no extra air left for calling out for help.

Twenty-five percent of people who drowned were swimmers. Being a swimmer doesn’t insure that you are safe from drowning.

Children are much more likely to drown from 18 months to 30 months than at any other time in their life. This is generally because a toddler’s center of balance is lower than older children’s. Due to the proportion of their head size to their body size, they are top-heavy. Because of this, and because they are still developing coordination skills, they tip over easily. If they tip while exploring water, it is difficult for them to self-rescue and they have a very short time to clear their air passages before drowning. Also, children this age tend to get away from supervising adults quickly and are not able to consistently distinguish between things that are safe or dangerous.

What to do:

Scan every 10 seconds. Always remember that a plugged airway can occur in 20 seconds or less in young children.

Never leave a child alone in the tub even for a second.

Never a trust a child’s life to another child.

Use a signaling device, like a whistle, sparingly. Don’t use it to discipline children. They easily become "Whistle Deaf" when it is used too frequently. Instead, only use it for calling attention to an emergency.

Check the inside lifejackets to make sure it is U.S. Coast Guard approved.

There is a growing trend to use non-US Coast Guard approved floatation suits for young children. Many adults think these devices are approved lifejackets. These suits don’t provide the safety net that is needed in a drowning situation. For most of us, checking for the approval may be the only way to tell the difference.

(For a link to this course, visit www.windhamchildcare.org)

Not long after I took this course, I was at a pool party where there were many caring adults swimming alongside my two young daughters. With this information fresh in my mind, I made an effort to observe the surroundings. I trust no one more than my family members to keep my girls safe, but I also couldn’t help but notice how quickly 20 seconds goes by.

Ironically, in this situation, more adults around doesn’t necessarily equate to more safety. Adults get into conversations. What if everyone takes comfort in the fact that there are plenty of adults around and all eyes come off the children in just the wrong moment?

So, I’d like to add my own two cents which is to say when you’re around young children and water, be constantly present and aware. There’s a fine line between awareness and being overprotective and fearful. But figuring out that balance is a challenge worth taking on when it comes to the safety (and fun!) of our children.

Sarah DiNicola is the Communications & Events Coordinator at Windham Child Care Association and mom to Sylvia, age 4 and Nina, age 6. She welcomes comments, questions and feedback at sarah@windhamchildcare.org or 802-254-5332 ext. 310.


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