One of the most important things you can teach your children is water safety. Whether on the water in a boat or just playing in the neighborhood pool, water play can quickly become dangerous and even deadly. International Water Safety Day is May 15, and was created as a global platform for teaching youth how to be safer in and around water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 20 percent of people who die from drowning each year are children ages 14 and under. The highest rate of death is in children between the ages of 1 and 4 years old. For each of these children who die, there are five more children who are transported to a hospital and need emergency department care. Non-fatal drowning injuries can be serious and life-altering, causing severe brain damage leading to problems with memory and even learning disabilities. The International Water Safety Day website cites drowning as the third leading cause of accidental injury death worldwide.
How can we make certain our kids are water safe? We asked four-time Olympic gold medalist Lenny Krayzelburg, who started the Lenny Krayzelburg Swim Academy when he retired from professional swimming in 2004. At his swim academy, students must first pass a survival test focused on water safety, before any actual swim techniques are introduced. We asked Krayzelburg at what age we should teach our children about water safety, based on the scary statistics.
“More parents need to take a serious look at this and consider putting their children into swim lessons,” he shares. “Lots of parents are hesitant to get their children into swim lessons because they are not old enough or they are too scared.” Since the very youngest children are the most likely group to die from drowning, shouldn’t teaching water safety start sooner, rather than later? “I believe that there is tremendous value starting infants on swimming lessons as soon as possible,” says Krayzelburg. “Babies do not have any bad habits, which allow instructors to lay a solid foundation without much resistance. Learning to be water safe does not have to be fun, it is a skill that must be learned sooner rather than later,” he adds.
How do you know when your child is really ready to learn water safety? Krayzelburg sees a lot of parents who quickly come to the conclusion that their child isn’t ready yet when they see their child in the water crying during swim lessons, so they want to remove the child from the lessons. “Every child is ready for lessons when they come to the pool,” he says. “Some take longer than others to adjust, some will cry and rebel, but eventually they will adjust and start feeling comfortable enough to transition into the learning phase. Remember, learning to be water safe does not have to be fun; fun comes later when your child is water safe,” he adds.
Many people may think teaching water safety skills before actually teaching children to swim is backwards, but Krayzelburg has a different view. “I absolutely feel that it leads kids to become a better swimmer,” he says. “Survival and safety are taught by teaching fundamentals of staying relaxed, good body position and being parallel to the water. These are all important components when putting swim strokes together, and kids in our program already have these fundamental components down pat right when starting to learn their strokes,” he says.
International Water Safety Day may be only one day each year, but it’s important to teach children of any age — and adults, too — about how to stay safe when in and on the water.
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