Ask The Expert: Swim and Water Safety For Kids This Summer
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As far as talking them about it, there are a couple of good children's books, one is Josh the baby Otter, so at a very young age if you're trying to tell them how to be safe, it's not about the negative, it's about the positive -- there's three lessons: always swim with an adult, learn how to float, and always swim with a buddy. Never go near the water without an adult. You're not trying to teach them about water safety, you're trying to affect their behavior. That book is a really easy…it does a really good job, if you read it to your kids it gives them some context, you know, "I want to be like that little baby Josh and always be near my mom." Don't go near the water without an adult, learn to swim, swimming's fun, and always swim with a buddy. Those are the quick three must-have lessons you want your kids to know. It's not about fear or about what could happen that's bad, just about the good.
If you see a child who looks like they are in trouble in the water, what are the exact steps you should take to help them?
I get asked that question a lot and there are so many different answers. There's never going to be an exchange for real common sense in this regard. Some people say if you're not a trained rescuer, you don't go in, you'll hear that a lot. I think parents should first apply some common sense.
If you're watching some moderately good swimming four year old, and they're in the five foot end and they're starting to have some problems, and you're a six foot male, you know, walk over and grab them. Don't say, "oh, I'm not a trained rescuer, I'm not supposed to go." Get in there!
If there's a rule, it's reach for them first. But you'll also hear this thing of reach and then throw, that if you can't reach them, throw something. I'm telling you, the younger the child, the less likely they are to grab something that you throw at them. This is one of those supervision things where if your children are at a level where them getting into the deep end can cause them real problems, then you should still be within touch supervision. You shouldn't be away from them, or let them get away from you.
Any good pool should have a rescue hook, what we call a shepard's hook, and that's the long pole, even if you can hang on the side of the pool and reach your leg out to give them something to grab. Short of becoming a trained rescuer, try common sense, reach for them when you can, and try really hard not to let them get in that situation.
What are some key questions parents should ask when they send their kids somewhere to make sure the situation is as safe as it would be in your own home?
You should ask if they are doing the same things you would do in the situation. Are they behaving the way I would behave? Do you have someone designated to watch the water and do nothing else? Do you have enough supervision to do that? If there's 30 kids and 1 adult, that's not enough.
I've dropped my kids off at pool parties where there were 35 kids and 1 adult, and when I saw that I realized I wasn't going to be able to leave. My choices were to say to my kid, "No, you're not staying at your friend's birthday party," or to stay myself, so I stayed.
If there are 30 kids and a big pool, I want probably 5 adults, and a lifeguard, you know? If it's a public pool with that has one guard that's there nine hours during the day? Nine hours is too long to watch the pool. If there's one guard for the entire shift and they're tasked with other jobs like checking IDs, that's not okay.
A real municipal pool, with shifts of three lifeguards and three extras in rotation and a supervisor, that's as safe as you can get. And if your kid's a non-swimmer, have them wear a lifejacket. My daughter was at camp for a week and I sent her with her own lifejacket so she could have it to wear when she decides to, not when they decide she should.
You have to have people watching like you. If you watch your kids at the pool full time then that's the first question I have, is there someone to watch the pool full time?
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers about water safety?
The pool itself needs to be managed. The water needs to be clear all the way down to the deep-end, it needs to be a well-maintained pool. If your backyard pool is cloudy it's a non-swimming pool until it gets clear.
Also, water safety is not just about pools. A small child can drown in 2-inches of water; supervision is always necessary.
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