Drowning is the number one cause of injury-related death in children ages 1 to 4, and the second leading cause for kids 5 to 14, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the swimming season quickly approaching, neighborhood pools opening and water-centric vacation season kicking off, water safety is likely to be at the top of parents’ minds. We talked with Natasha Neumann and Kristy Blew of Goldfish Swim School—Edmond about water safety and their protocols to keep families safe during the pandemic.
For a child who does not yet know how to swim, do you recommend life jackets or puddle jumpers?
It’s important for kids who are learning to swim to have time swimming without flotation devices, and they should always be within arms’ reach of an adult and working on swimming skills. There are also scenarios when life jackets or puddle jumpers need to be worn for safety. For example, when you’re with a big group, all kids who are not yet great swimmers should wear one. Even adults need to wear life jackets in open waters like lakes or oceans.
When choosing a life jacket or puddle jumper for your child, find one that is the right size and fits well — it should be snug. It should also be something your child is comfortable in, and that will depend on their body shape and how their weight is distributed.
What are the most important water safety rules to stress with kids each summer?
When it comes to water safety, it’s important to have layers of protection. Formal swim lessons reduce the risk of childhood drowning by up to 88 percent! Discussing water safety frequently is another essential step. In a developmentally appropriate way, explain what drowning is (when you go underwater and can’t breathe) so kids understand the danger and the need for safety rules.
Reinforce the message: Act, Throw, Don’t go! If a child sees someone in trouble in the water, throw them something that floats and get an adult. Emphasize that kids should never try to rescue someone themselves. This can be hard because their inclination is to help, but remind them if they fall in, too, there won’t be anyone to go for help, and that’s most important. Brainstorm with kids about what kinds of floating items they could throw in (pick something that won’t pop!) and choose an item together to place near the pool in case of emergency.
Go over rules with kids before entering the water EACH time as they will be different at grandma’s pool versus a neighborhood pool versus open water. Point out where the shallow end is, whether jumping or diving is allowed depending on water depth and reminders on rules about rough play.
When my child is visiting a friend or relative with a pool, what questions should I ask about their water safety rules?
If your child is not yet swimming independently, visit the pool with your child if possible. Consider (or ask if you don’t know) whether the home opens directly to the pool area or if it is fenced or secured. Ask the rules of their pool regarding adult supervision (not even adults should swim alone!) and rough play in or around the water. Don’t get a false sense of security if the pool isn’t “that deep” as drownings can happen in very shallow water.
Water safety is important even when it’s not swimming season; in fact, the majority of drownings happen when kids aren’t expected to be swimming. Stress with your child and the homeowner that they should not be outdoors around the water without an adult. Beware of water hazards other than pools, like ponds, low-lying areas that fill with water only when it rains heavily and even wading pools, buckets and bathtubs filled with water.
By opening the conversation up with the pool owner and talking about water safety, you can get a good feel for whether you feel safe sending your kids to swim at their pool.
Your Water Guardian program is really innovative — how is it helping parents keep kids safe?
The Water Guardian program ensures when kids are in the water they have a dedicated adult to monitor their safety without any other distractions, cell phones or talking to others. It can take as little as 10 seconds for a water crisis to occur. The program was launched by a mother whose son tragically drowned while the family was on vacation. She realized if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone.
Parents or grandparents can come to our facility, read and take the Water Guardian pledge and receive free Water Guardian lanyards. Whether you are swimming as a family or hosting a party, the adult in charge wears the lanyard and commits to watch children in the water without distractions. Think about it like serving as the lifeguard. You should switch grownups on duty every 30 minutes, with each staying on guard until their replacement is ready.
What new protocols have you put in place during the pandemic to keep families safe during swim lessons?
We err on the side of caution, always. Everyone gets their temperature taken before entering the building. Everyone over age 11 must wear a mask, and our instructors wear masks. In our viewing area, the chairs are socially distanced and we’re cleaning everything between lessons. We have closed every other changing room to provide distancing. In our pool, we’ve made our lanes for lessons wider so we can space kids out. In our little kid classes, where they are often seated on the side of the pool, we space the children out and have clear dividers between them. We sanitize the pool deck between each lesson block, our air filtration system provides fresh air exchange every 10 to 12 minutes and the combination of chlorine and 90 degree, 50 percent humidity environment enhances safety.
My child refuses to get her face and head wet. How can I help get her comfortable in the water?
First, know that this is a very common issue and one that with practice and patience at home and in swim lessons will get better. At Goldfish, we slowly acclimate children through a process called water conditioning, and parents can do the same thing at home. When a child is afraid to get their head or face wet, we won’t even attempt to ask them to put their face in the water or go underwater until at least the third lesson. Using a fun whale-shaped cup full of water, we slowly pour the water on the child’s shoulder, inching upward each time and affirming to the child that they are safe and the water is OK. At home, it’s important to use a fun cup or shape, make sure the water and air are both warm (the air temp is 90 degrees at our facility!) and make the atmosphere playful.
It can also help to have a child practice wearing goggles. Being able to see underwater gives children a sense of security and helps improve balance, which is a huge part of swimming.
With the swimming season quickly approaching, neighborhood pools opening and water-centric vacation season kicking off, are there sure-fire ways to teach a child water safety and swimming basics quickly?
Some of us aren’t so lucky to live in tropical temperatures all year long (jealous!), so it is common for those swimming skills to lay dormant for much of the year. For children who need to brush up on skills quickly, consistent daily lessons in a short time frame, like our Jump Start Clinics, can refresh important swimming and safety skills like treading water, floating, breath control and stroke technique.
Games are a great way to help kids remember important swim and safely lessons while also having fun. Focus on building stamina and endurance with racing games and encourage diving for pool toys to work on holding their breath. Focusing on these basics will give parents and kids alike more confidence in kids’ abilities, and more comfort with them going off the diving board or down a water slide knowing they know how to tread water, swim underwater and swim safely to exit the pool, if you’re headed on vacation or to visit a relative or friend with a pool. Jump Start Clinics are four to five 30-minute lessons in the same week.
Find out more about swim lessons for children of all abilities, from baby and parent classes and introductory lessons to one-week Jump Start Clinics to brush up on swim basics with incredible results and technique-focused classes for serious swimmers, plus how to schedule a free W.A.T.E.R. Safety Presentation for your group or learn more about the free Water Guardian program, at goldfishswimschool.com.
Check out Goldfish At Home’s FREE swim-inspired exercise videos families can do from their living room at youtube.com/user/swimgoldfish/