I'm sorry to start the week with a sobering post, but this topic has been on my mind for a few days now. Last week a five-year old boy drowned at a local, private, neighborhood pool. It wasn't our pool, thankfully, but a pool very nearby. The day after this happened I took T. to a birthday party and two of the moms there had been at the pool the afternoon of the drowning. They were ashen-faced still, and sad--marked in that way you are when you have to see something as terrible as a small body taken out of a swimming pool on a sunny summer afternoon. The boy had somehow wandered away from the children's pool and fallen into the deep end, where he wasn't discovered until it was too late. This happened at a pool with lifeguards (too large a percentage of accidental drownings occur in pools where lifeguards are present)--four of them on duty; it happened to a child who knew a little about swimming, too, and who was there under the care of relatives.
I grew up around water and swimming to me has always been a natural, second-nature type of activity. I always knew that when I had kids, it would be important to me that they learn to swim, and to be safe and comfortable in the water. I was never afraid of the water until I became a parent, and even then my fear was slow to take root. But one day, when I was in the water doing a mom-child swim lesson with L., who was three at the time, he let go of the side of the pool to reach for me at a moment when I was turned away. Instead of thrashing around noisily as I thought kids must certainly do when they are in trouble in the water he merely sank--soundlessly, and without a splash or warning sound. I'll never forget the moment when I turned back around and saw him sinking, like a rock, down away from me, to the bottom of the pool. Of course this story ended well--I was right there and I half-dove, half-reached to scoop him back up again. But the whole rest of the afternoon I was scarred by the possibilities of what could have been, and by my realization that children drown horribly silently, and quickly. My eyes had been opened that day--big time.
I'm glad my kids can swim now. I feel a sense of comfort knowing they can stay afloat, and get themselves to the wall or ladder when they're in trouble. But I also feel a pang of extra worry--T. is over-confident these days, and will jump into the deep end without a thought (this past weekend she even went off the low dive!). Even L. seems so strong and able in the water that we've become a little lax, I think, lulled into a false sense of security that now we have kids who can swim we can let our guard down just a little, look away for too long, read a few extra pages of a book.
I'm not suggesting we become so hyper-vigilant as parents that all the fun in pool time ends up sucked right out of it, but I have been running through my own "refresher" list of pool safety tips in my own head ever since I heard news of the drowning last week. The Family Education site right here has some wonderful stay-safe tips, but here are a few of my own:
Kids should never enter the pool without informing their parent/guardian. Although T. has violated this a few times, we are consistently drilling it into her that she must inform one of us before she decides to jump in.
Just as you would show your kids the fire exits in a movie theater or classroom, or airplane, even, show your kids the "safe" ways out of the pool. Teach your kids to swim for the walls or ladders, and not to you. Young kids are often trained to swim to a grownup without looking first for the ladders and walls--something they should always learn to do.
Teach your kids how to look for and read the depth markings on the sides of the pool. Again, kids often rely on parents to tell them where they can or can't swim. Help them understand that the numbers on the sides correspond with how high the water is in relation to their own bodies. Many kids just don't understand that they won't be able to touch the bottom.
Teach your kids that the lifeguards are there to protect the whole pool, but that you the parent are there to protect them. I think this is a lesson even parents need a refresher on. The presence of multiple lifeguards at a pool often lulls parents into a false sense of security. It only takes two minutes for a child to lose consciousness, and three to four minutes for the damage to become irreversible.
Try and avoid using flotation devices and inflatable vests and arm bands on your children, if you can help it. While these might help you feel safer about your children, children using these devices still need constant supervision. You might as well take the inflatables off and work instead on teaching your little ones basic swimming skills.
When shopping for pools to join at the beginning of the season, consider choosing a smaller pool club over a larger, fancier, "busier" one. Many of the new pools at popular clubs and even at YMCAs are huge--with water slides and sprinkler sections, and they are divided up in ways that make it difficult for a parent to keep their eyes on everything at once. While I am not criticizing these types of pools, I know that the drowning last week happened at one such pool, and on an afternoon when there were multiple pool parties and activities going on at once.
Impose consequences on children who refuse to follow pool safety rules. Many times we parents are inclined to be more lax with rules at the pool--it's supposed to be a time to have fun, after all. But we've had to sit T. out for "time-out" quite a few times when she's ignored safety rules. Teach your kids that pool safety is a life and death matter, and the consequences for being unsafe are very real.
What are your own pool safety rules for your kids?