The lure of young children to water is a natural during the warm, steamy summer month. Swimming, skiing, diving, Marco Polo and host of other activities – is a Canadian tradition from June to August. Appreciating the country’s natural water sources is must when the snow and rain are long gone, and as a result, it’s imperative to arm your family with knowledge necessary to enjoy water sports safely.
“The bottom line is that children can drown is any water source so all water must be treated as potentially dangerous,” says Dr. Jamie Freishtat MD, FAAP, pediatrician, spokesperson and safety advocate for Safe Kids, an organization that actively promotes water safety and drowning prevention. “However, there are some differences between open water sources, such as lakes, oceans, and rivers, versus pools.”
Dr. Freishtat stresses the importance of ensuring kids swim in designated areas only, aren’t operating water crafts like jet skis and other such devices, and are wearing proper-fitting life jackets – that is, a snug fit to prevent a child’s chin or ears from slipping down through the neck opening. More than that, children should be taught not to dive into open water sources since you never know how deep the water goes or what could be hidden below. They should also be made aware of currents, undertows and changing weather as unsafe and should be avoided.
Canadians aren’t naturally exposed to open water. Most children in Canada take swimming lessons through the Red Cross or similar programs. Dr. Freishtat recommends introducing a child to swimming lessons at the age of four depending on your child’s developmental readiness, and even younger in some circumstances (see addendum below.)
However, no matter a child’s capability as a swimmer, Dr. Freishtat recommends that parents learn CPR and ensure that children are supervised at all times by an attentive and sober adult with a phone nearby in case of emergencies.
“Parents need to be aware that all water sources have the potential to be dangerous. Children can drown in as little as an inch of water,” explains Dr. Freishtat. “No child is drown-proof…drowning can happen in an instant and can be silent.”
Dr. Freishtat’s Top Tips for Teaching Kids about Water Safety
- Never leave any toys or play equipment in or near the pool when done swimming. This could entice a child back to the water when there’s no one around to supervise.
- If you have a home pool or know someone who does, be sure there is a fence at least five feet tall, completely surrounds the pool, and has a self-latching gate.
- Teach children from a young age about water safety rules. Be sure the rules are age appropriate and that your child is able to understand what you have said and can repeat them back to you.
- Enforce from a very young age that children are never to go near any water without an adult present and that they may not go in/near/around the water until the adult has given permission to do so.
- Teach children to notify a supervising adult immediately if they witness any concerning behaviour in/around/near water.
Dr. Freishtat’s Little Known Water Safety Facts for Parents
- Anyone who takes care of a child should learn CPR.
- Drowning can happen fast and can be silent.
- Never consume alcohol near any body of water, especially if you are in charge of children.
- Never allow children to eat or chew gum while in the water.
- Children can drown in as little as an inch of water.
- Talking on the phone, reading a book, or chatting with friends is not okay when supervising kids in/near/around water.
- If a parent leaves a child under the care of another adult, be sure to check beforehand about potential water dangers, and verify that there will proper adult supervision at all times.
- Be aware of the risks of entrapment. This occurs when a part of a person’s body, hair, or bathing suit becomes attached to a drain via its strong suction, which can lead to drowning.
For more information on Safe Kids and their water safety tips, visit www.safekids.org. Read our blog on the topic of swimming safety: http://www.whereparentstalk.com/blog/2010/07/13/make-it-mandatory