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BONUS: How to dive into water education with kids
Talk about a scary statistic: Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional, injury-related death for kids ages five and younger. Swim safety is a year-round concern, especially in the Carolinas’ climate and especially when summer heatwaves kick in, so we’ve rounded up a few things for you to consider about water safety.
Here is a happier number: Swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent.
While there’s varying opinions, the American Academy of Pediatrics Research has found that swim lessons are beneficial for children starting around age one. Some parents start lessons around the age of three months because at three months some babies can start to learn to float on their backs.
“In North Carolina water is all around us with creeks, rivers, lakes and the ocean,” says Martha Hocutt, North Director, SwimMAC Swim School, located in Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center. “Each one requires a different skill set. Just because your child can swim doggy paddle across a pool, does not mean they are ready to try to swim across the lake or be in the ocean alone.”
Confidence and curiosity
We are big fans of curiosity and the role it plays in creativity and learning, but there are risks when it comes to curiosity in the water. Many young children are drawn to water. With a seemingly instinctive easiness, some kids may not hesitate at the water’s edge to jump right in. Others may accidentally fall in when they get too close.
Remember, the water does not have to be deep for a child to drown, and a child weighing less than 30 pounds can drown in fewer than 30 seconds. A lot of times drowning doesn’t look like what most think it looks like. It is rarely involves flailing arms or calls for help.
This makes learning how to get out of the water an essential skill. Children should have the confidence and know-how to push from the bottom of the pool and return to the nearest wall or ladder, and to get their body up and out of the water from there. By repeating the exit technique (elbow, elbow, knee, knee) over and over with adult supervision, the familiarity of the movements become second nature, and may also help to keep your child calm if they find themselves in trouble.
Make it fun
Just like with any subject or chore, if you make it fun the learning comes easier. Make sure your lessons and time in the water include skills that build your child’s comfort and joy such as flip turns and retrieving toys from the pool floor. While kids are having fun is a great time to talk to them about water safety.
Developing a healthy respect for the water is key. “Sink or swim” doesn’t apply when it comes to young kids learning about water safety. Never throw a child in the deep end in an effort to teach them to swim.
Martha also recommends year-round swimming and swim lessons if possible.
“We encourage all swimmers to swim year-round to build and maintain their endurance,” she says. “It’s also a great way for kids to stay active while having fun.”
Life jackets are a lifeline
When out enjoying area waterways, it is important that children (and adults!) always wear life jackets, regardless of their ability to swim.
Be thoughtful about the swim-safety gear you select for your child. Not all flotation devices are held to the same standards. Most come with weight and height requirements.
Don’t hesitate to bring your life jacket into a swimming instructor to confirm that it’s right for your child.
Nothing will drown-proof your child, but a part of the best swim safety is an actively engaged adult.
“Parents need to stay alert. Always watch for signs of exhaustion in the water, dehydration and sunburns. If planning on being in the water all day, be hydrated before arriving,” Martha says. “Make sure your children take breaks from both the sun and water. Set a timer to help you remember; once they’re wet you won’t notice your child sweating.”