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How to have fun and keep safe in the water

More than 300 Australians drown each year and, of these 300, approximately 50 are children under 14 years of age. Being safe in the water is an important part of having fun in the water so make sure your children are protected year-round with these handy tips.

Mom swimming with baby

Australia is a water-loving nation. As summer approaches, more and more families are heading to the beach to have some fun. Backyards are noisy with squeals of delight as toddler pools are filled and there’s a chorus of “can we go to the pool” come summer holidays.

But while enjoying the beach or the pool is part and parcel of being Australian, there’s an element of responsibility that comes with having fun in the water. With approximately 50 drowning deaths in the under-14 age group each year, it is essential for parents to teach their kids how to have fun while being safe in the water.

Safety first

While parents may be lulled into thinking summer presents the greatest risk of drowning for their child, in reality, the drowning risk for young children is similar all year round.

“While the types of environments that children may be exposed to can change with the seasons, toddlers and young children are at just as much risk if they are left unattended in the bath as they are in a toddler wading pool,” says Amy Peden, national manager of research and policy at the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia.

With toddlers and young children, the majority of water safety and drowning prevention strategies are provided by parents and caregivers. Making sure your child understands the risks of playing in water is essential, as is proper education.

“Always ensure your child is within arms reach when they are in, on or around water,” says Amy. “Restrict their accesss to water, enrol them in a water familiarisation program and learn resuscitation. Using these strategies in tandem will ensure that if one line of defence fails, the other strategies form a web to reduce the risk of drowning.”

Amy also suggests discussing the risks of each aquatic environment to your toddler in plain and simple language.

“Make sure they know there is a rule that they are not to go near the water without an adult,” she says.

Swim school

Learning to swim and being aware of water safety skills play important roles in keeping children safe from drowning. However, for younger children, water awareness classes may be a better option, suggests Amy.

“Water awareness classes, such as the RLSS Swim and Survive Wonder program, provide a fun way for children to experience the water while teaching safe water practices and rules to toddlers and young children,” she says.

A water awareness class can help familiarise younger children with water in preparation for swimming lessons when they are little older. These types of classes typically include activities such as:

  • Getting wet: learning to enter and exit the water safely with a carer
  • Breathing: experiencing water on the head and body
  • Going under water: using key words to prepare for submersion
  • Staying afloat: becoming comfortable being cradled on the back while in the water
  • Keeping balanced: learning what it feels like to be rocked, turned and towed through the water
  • Kicking and arm action: learning to splash
  • Parent education: learning essential drowning prevention strategies

A second too long

Sadly, it’s usually in the few seconds you turn your back that accidents occur.

“Many drowning deaths happen in those few seconds while you answer the phone or a knock at the door,” explains Amy. “Active adult supervision is vital in protecting children under five and poor or non-swimmers from drowning. That means constant supervision by a responsible adult who is within arms reach at all times,” she says.

Active adult supervision means constant surveillance. “It’s not the occasional glance while you undertake household chores, or looking at your child playing outside while you are inside,” Amy urges.

In fact, active supervision has four key components:

  1. Be prepared: Always make sure you have everything ready (towels, a change of clothes) for bathing your child or going swimming.
  2. Be close: Always be within arms reach of your child.
  3. All of your attention: Focus all of your attention on your child and watch, talk and play with them while they’re in the water.
  4. All of the time: Never leave your child alone in the water, or in the care of an older child.

Water safety doesn’t have to be scary — having fun in the water is a wonderful experience for all of the family, so the last thing you want to do is scare your child but they do need to understand the risks.

Make sure you set rules around playing in the water — that your child should never enter water without an adult present. Be clear and honest but not overly dramatic when you have your water safety discussions with your children, and make sure you reinforce the rules each time your child plays with water — whether that be the bath or the local pool.

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