TRIGGER ALERT, Child loss and drowning discussed in this post. It’s not fun to read about but it might, just might, save your kid’s life.
Yesterday, we got to enjoy a rare hot and sunny Washington day on our friend’s ski boat. After the husbands took turns reliving their glory days on wakeboard and mono-ski, we put out the “Sidewinder” tube and my good friend went out for a much more tame go with her son and our two girls.
Everyone was safely ensconced in life jackets. My husband, ER doctor and former lifeguard, was perched on the back of the boat ready to leap in if anyone was jostled off. Both girls know how to swim without floaties. We never went over 15 mph. And still, with every bump, every turn over the wake, my heart was in my throat imagining one of them popping off into the water and drowning.
As a doctor, I know that drowning is the leading killer of children aged 1-4. If there is only time for 1 thing to talk about at the end of a well-child visit, that’s the one I target. It’s something most parents worry about whether they know the statistics or not. And yet – we still miss the biggest risk most of the time.
Kids are not at high risk of drowning when we are all playing together in the pool. They’re not at high risk even when bouncing along in a life jacket behind a boat. It’s when we don’t think they’re going in the water at all that the danger is highest.
The day before our boating, I had lounged and gabbed with our friends on the beach – Rosie and Mimi 200 yards down the empty shore collecting seashells and I was honestly more worried that the bald eagle we kept spotting would come carry one of them away than the very real danger they could wander down to the water’s edge without us noticing and drown in moments. We ALL forget that it’s these unguarded moments that are the real danger. Even the professionals.
The recent stories of toddlers drowning in the media – including the tragic loss of Bode Miller’s daughter and Nicole Hugh’s son – have started a new fight to promote water safety with the AAP and in the public eye. They highlight just how quickly the lives of even the best parents can be changed by drowning. And also, that you can do things to decrease the risk and improve chances of survival.
So, what can you do? Should we all keep life vests on our kids 24/7 when we are in walking distance of water? Should we just give up and never let them around water deeper than an inch? Leashes? Well…. I mean you could. But, there are more practical solutions.
Talk to your kids about water safety from the beginning. I have erred on the side of scaring them about it because I’d rather they be a little timid as swimmers than over-confident.
Strongly consider enrolling them in ISR Self Rescue classes sometime after age 6 months and before 6 years old. These classes teach infants to toddlers how to roll over and float safely if they fall into water.
I think my friend, the super smart mama Dr. Elizabeth Nicholson (that’s her cutie above), says it best:
I’ve seen conflicting opinions of ISR over the years … As an Emergency Medicine physician, I am painfully aware of drowning risks. Each summer, I console at least one family after the loss of their child. Primary prevention, such as locked fences and sturdy pool covers are the most important, but we all know that even the most attentive caretakers have escape artists for children. It takes only seconds.
I wanted to have extra seconds to find my kids. I viewed drowning prevention through ISR like buckling a car seat or holding my hand in a busy parking lot. It might not have been fun every minute, but crucially important.
Our instructor is wonderful. She pushes the kids in a safe a supported manner. They are reassured during class and proud after learning new skills. Even with vastly different temperaments, both of my kids have learned the skills AND love the water. See for yourself!
Want to see it in action? Check out the video of the “final lesson”, falling in with clothes on below:
Look up the closest certified program to you here.
- Barriers: If you own a pool, a pool fence or safety-focused pool cover is a MUST. We moved into the gorgeous backyard oasis above, but all I saw was drowning risk until we got our All-Safe Pool Fence. If you’re inside and not in “swim mode”, keep the kids behind locked doors – make sure the locks are child-proof. A hook lock at home or simple stick-on child lock at a vacation rental can be applied to most sliders above child’s reach to be safe.
- Lifeguards: If you’re at someone else’s home or on a watery fun vacation without a fence, treat watching the kids like lifeguards do. Someone should always be the primary observer. If that person needs to go, they need to actively and explicitly hand off duty to another adult. When you’re in a group setting without this designation, it is WAY too easy for everyone to assume someone else is watching the kids – which is what happened to this family.
- Life jackets: If the kids are just playing in the yard around an open pool or on the beach near the waves, they still need life jackets on and/or an adult “lifeguard”.
- Pool alarms: Again, if this is your home or somewhere you go frequently, a good back-up measure is an alarm so you know it they’re in the vicinity.
If you haven’t already, enroll yourself and your adult family members in a CPR class. Make sure to continue updating it when it expires. Drowning happens quickly and silently and you can’t be sure how long the kid has been in the water. If you get to them quickly, rapid initiation of CPR while someone else calls 911 can absolutely save their lives.
You can look up classes in your area here or get at home kits. Don’t let this be one of those, “well I was meaning to do it, but we were just so busy….” items. Look it up today. Put it on the calendar for within the next month. Chances are you might literally save a life.
4) Spread the word
Tell. Your. Friends. If you see unsafe practices around water – say something. We can’t know how many lives have been saved by the preventive measures above, but it’s definitely significant. Not sure where to start? Send them this blog article or post a pic on social media saying “PSA: pool fences save lives” or whatever speaks to you. Just keep people talking about it. We should be talking about this AT LEAST as much as preventing SIDS or the proper carseat positioning in your vehicle or which screen time is the least evil screen time because it still remains the leading cause of early childhood death.
Alternatively… stick to inland splash pads.
Dr. Annie is a married mom of 2 plus 1 on the way and family physician in the Sacramento area.