I'm not a fan of the water. I always thought that my reluctance to don a swimsuit was about my physical issues, but a few years ago, my mom told me that I stopped swimming the day my younger brother almost drowned. And yes, both my parents were present, as were my sister and I. Fortunately, my brother survived unscathed, but far too many children aren't so lucky.
"Drowning is quick and silent -- you won't hear a splash," says Cathy Dudick, MD, trauma surgeon with AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center (ARMC) in New Jersey. She stresses the importance of "constant, eyes-on, uninterrupted supervision," but adds that supervision alone isn't enough. And if you look away at the crucial moment, "having chosen a swimming program that teaches your child the skills to survive in the water could save your child's life," she says.
Unlike traditional swim lessons, self-rescue swim lessons focus on teaching a children how to survive if they end up in the water alone. This includes either a roll-back-to-float, for children 6 to 12 months old, or a swim-float-swim sequence until the child can swim to safety, for children 1 to 6 years. The aquatic survival skills that a child learns in ISR lessons are based on more than 40 years of research and development in the areas of psychology, physiology and the behavioral sciences.
At AtlantiCare's LifeCenter, such lessons are taught as a comprehensive program customized for each child (you can find classes using the ISR method all over the country). Participants take 10-minute classes five days a week for four to six weeks. Babies 6 to 12 months old learn to hold their breath underwater, roll onto their backs and float unassisted. Hard to believe, I know -- so watch the video below to see a baby who has learned this life-saving skill.
Older kids -- that is, those 1 to 6 years old -- learn to hold their breath underwater, swim with their heads down and eyes open, roll onto their backs to float, rest, breathe and roll back over to resume swimming until they reach the side of the pool and can crawl out. Once a child has learned the ISR technique, they practice fully clothed -- as 86 percent of children who fall into the water are, according to a 2004 study. But swimming lessons are just one part of the plan you need to keep your kids safe.
Never turn your back on your child around water. It takes just seconds for him to get in serious trouble. Verbally assign supervision responsibilities, and make sure you get a verbal response, so there are never questions about who is responsible for watching a child. For example, say to your spouse, "I'm going in to get a drink. Are you watching Jordan?" and wait for him to say, "Yep," before you head in.
Build layers of defense around the pool. Permanent four-sided fencing that encloses the entire pool area should be four to six feet high and equipped with self-closing, self-latching gates.
Remove toys from the pool when you're not swimming. Toys attract attention, and kids don't always stop to think before reaching for something. Also, be aware of any furniture and other objects in the pool area that children might use to climb over the fence.
Don't leave a child in a pool so you can answer the phone, attend to something inside the home or help someone else in or around the water. If you must leave, take your kids with you.
Learn and enforce all the water rules and, above all, teach by your example: Obey lifeguard warnings, refrain from running around pool decks, follow "no diving" signs, never swim alone and always wear a life jacket when boating, fishing or playing in or near deep or fast-moving water.
Flotation devices such as armbands, rings and inflatable toys give parents and children a false sense of security. Floaties are not a replacement for supervision. In fact, many floaties can shift suddenly, deflate or slip from underneath, leaving a child in a very dangerous situation.
Can you teach your infant or toddler to swim? Watch the video below to see that, yes, it is possible to teach your baby life-saving skills such as floating on her back.
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