Prevent Drowning This Summer: It Doesn't Look Like It Does in the Movies

8 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

This is a really sobering PSA to write, but I hope it might help someone.

Most child deaths after one year old are due to accidents, and drowning accounts for approximately a quarter of deaths for the one-to-four-year-old range. Put another way, drowning is second only to motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of five.

Prevent child drowning: It's not like you see in movies == Hobo Mama

Tina from The Making of a Modern Mommy sent out an email with the following link from gCaptain to remind us all of water safety, especially as we enter the summer months (in my hemisphere and latitude, at least). This is chilling to read, but do so anyway and help save a life this summer!

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning, by Mario Vittone

"Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life."

Children (and adults) who are drowning do not exhibit the TV-acculturated signs of distress we tend to look for, such as screaming and thrashing and waving their arms.

Here's what a (real) drowning child (person) looks and sounds like:

  • Quiet. Drowning children cannot talk or yell for help, because they are too busy trying desperately to breathe. Talking and screaming are out of the question. If you're in doubt if someone's drowning, ask. If he can answer, he might still be in distress, but he is not yet drowning. If the child doesn't answer, assume the worst and help!
  • Immobile. Drowning children do not have strength to swim toward help or wave their arms to get attention. They bob quietly up and down vertically as they struggle to keep their head above water. They use their arms instinctually to push them upwards. The body is very low in the water, with just part of the head showing.

From the article:

"Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck."

Read more signs of drowning at the article.

Children who are drowning can have under a minute before they sink and succumb. Help a drowning child immediately by following these steps, from WikiHow:

  • Yell for help, no matter how good a swimmer you are.
  • Stay calm, and encourage the child to stay calm as well.
  • Try to reach the child from safety (such as a pool deck or boat deck). Lie facedown and use your outstretched arm, a t-shirt, or a tool such as a lifeguard's hook. If you must be in the water yourself, try to hold something strong to anchor yourself, such as a pool ladder, so that the child's frantic grabbing does not push you under, or row in a boat to the child.
  • As a last resort, swim to the child. It is very dangerous to attempt to rescue a drowning victim in the water and could result in your own injury or death. Try to bring an assisting device with you if at all possible, such as a life buoy or float to place between you and the child. If you must swim the child back to shore or the side of the pool, approach from behind and slide one or both your arms under her armpit(s) from the back. With both of you more or less on your backs, kick or sidestroke toward shore. Continue speaking in a calm voice to reassure and calm the child. If you have a flotation device, have it against your chest between you and the victim. If the child is clutching frantically at you and inadvertently bringing you under water, swim downwards until she instinctively lets you go, and then try again or seek additional help.

Even near-drowning and secondary drowning can be severely costly in terms of brain damage and other injuries, so follow these safety tips when your children are in or near water:

  • Never leave children unattended near or in water. This includes the bathtub. Don't slip away for "just a minute." Remember that babies and children who drown will not yell out or splash the water to alert you to their distress. They will sink quietly under the water, and you will never know if you're not there to help immediately.
  • Do not rely on water safety devices. Your children can use and enjoy water wings, bath seats, pool floats, and lifejackets —- but they are no substitute for adult supervision at all times. Children can and have drowned while wearing or using these devices.
  • Do not rely on swim classes. Children can start learning to swim from infancy, but even strong swimmers (even strong adult swimmers) can succumb to fatigue or water obstacles and drown. Have a trusted adult close at hand, no matter how good a swimmer your child is, and encourage older children to use the buddy system and keep an eye on each other.
  • Lock up family pools. "Drowning Is Quick and Quiet, Keep Your Eyes on Your Kids Around Water" from the Kansas City Kids infoZine has helpful tips, such as:
    • Fences around pools and hot tubs should be at least 5 feet high and have a self-latching mechanism.
    • Hot tubs need to have appropriate drain covers and vacuum releases to prevent entrapment. Children's hair or suits can get trapped in the drain, and the suction is too powerful for children (and even some adults) to fight.
    • Remove covers completely before using the pool for the season.
    • Consider attaching alarms to pool gates or even exterior doors leading to the yard. There have been children who have gone outside to inspect the pool while their parents were sleeping.
    • Be cautious around outdoor sources of water. Cover and lock up wells on your property. Be aware of drainage ditches and holes that fill with water after a rain, and supervise children around them. Stay within arm's reach at a public swimming pool, wading pool, or in the ocean. Know your own limitations as a swimmer, and do not let yourself get fatigued in open water while caring for a child or infant. Never take children (or yourself) swimming in dangerous conditions, such as choppy seas, strong winds, or lightning storms.
    • Do not keep standing water accessible to children in the home. Drain bathtubs immediately following a bath. Keep cloth diapers in a dry pail rather than a wet one. Close toilet lids, and use a lock if toddlers are curious. Empty buckets and other containers immediately after using.
    • Do not let children ingest water while swimming or bathing. There's a rare and sometimes fatal condition called "secondary drowning" where the lungs are damaged by filling with water, even though there was no acute immediate drowning. This is particularly critical in saltwater. Look for signs of lethargy and coughing or other breathing problems after a swim.
    • Learn infant and child CPR. To be prepared for the worst-case scenario, take a class at the Red Cross, and brush up your skills at least yearly.
    • Teach children about water safety. Talk to your kids about the risks of drowning, and don't let older children supervise younger siblings in the water without being close at hand yourself. Children are easily distracted and not necessarily strong swimmers themselves and should not be entrusted with the care of an infant or young child in a dangerous situation. Start talking even at toddler age about how to dial 911 (or whatever number is applicable in your area) in an emergency, and let children know that the first thing to do if they suspect someone else is drowning is to seek adult help.

    All right, I'm scared just writing this post. Please keep track of your children around water outdoors and indoors year-round. There's a lot of fun to be had playing in wading pools and swim parks in the summer, so just keep it safe!

    Photo credit: Author

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