Pool season is coming up, but it’s going to be quite different this year. In fact, the current school closures have experts and educators more worried than ever.
“Typically, spring is the time when families participate in swim lessons in preparation for the summer months,” Lisa Zarda, executive director of the United States Swim School Association (USSSA), tells SheKnows in an emailed statement. “We are extremely concerned that without swim lessons, there may be an increase in drowning incidences.” She adds that nine out of 10 drowning deaths, in kids, happen when an adult is “supervising” — but not really paying attention.
Hmm, supervising but not really paying attention? Sound at all familiar? Yeah, us too these days.
“There is a particular concern as many parents are trying to juggle working from home and supervising their children at the same time,” added John Kirk, president of the USSSA, in the same released statement. So what can parents do to stay vigilant? SheKnows spoke with YMCA aquatics director Jojo Pope to get the down-low on how to keep kids safe in the pool now, and well after social distancing is over.
1. Teach kids how to swim
Normally the first thing you’d consider is enrolling your child in swim lessons. After all, drowning is a real concern; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger. But with public pools currently closed, now is not the time to dive, literally, into this new skill set for kids who are swimming newbs. That is, unless you or a family member you’re quarantining with is trained as a lifeguard (those high school job skills do come in handy!) or swim instructor; in that case, hit the pool and get teaching!
When pools do reopen in the coming months, there are options when it comes to swim lessons: local parks and rec centers, the USA Swimming Foundation and private sessions are a few choices. The YMCA offers group swim lessons as well as the free Safety Around the Water program. In this program, kids learn skills like how to safely reach a pool’s edge and exit a body of water. “These skills are vital to help prevent drowning — [more so] than swimming stroke development,” says Pope.
2. Supervise at all times
“One of the easiest things parents can remember in the pool is to always have adult supervision,” says Pope, “and have ‘reach supervision’ for younger children — particularly those who cannot swim.” Pope says if there’s no lifeguard, at least one adult should be the designated “water watcher” who keeps an eye on children.
Having someone on hand who has CPR/first-aid knowledge is also important in case of emergencies. Training can be obtained via classes at your local hospital or YMCA or through the Red Cross, to name a few options. A Red Cross CPR class can be done online for only $25. For a hands-on experience, in-person first-aid/CPR class options can be found online at a cost of around $70 to $110. To find out about getting first-aid/CPR certified through Red Cross, call 1-800-REDCROSS.
3. Ramp up pool party security
When and if pool parties re-start this summer, YMCA of San Diego County’s Courtney Pendleton says that hiring a lifeguard can add a layer of safety.
“Many children know how to swim, which tends to make parents not watch as closely as they should,” she notes. “Pool emergencies can happen in the blink of an eye. Close supervision is key, but swim lessons and water safety should begin at a young age.”
A lifeguard can make up for that reduced caution. To find one for hire, inquire at your local community pool or call a private lifeguard company like Happy Swimmers.
4. Know the facts about flotation devices
Flotation devices can help kids’ mobility in the pool and give parents peace of mind, but they don’t ensure safety, so be sure to remain watchful. Some swim experts even discourage the use of “floaties,” noting that they may give children false confidence. Water wings and other floatation devices can be dangerous, writes Water Safety Magazine‘s Jenelle Lockard. “Because water wings are used on the upper arms, they prevent a child from using the correct swimming stroke or motion to move themselves through the water,” she explains in her column, Just Add Water. “Plus, if a child raises their arms above their head, their head can sink down below the water’s surface, causing panic and… drowning if not watched.”
5. Get the facts about “dry” or secondary drowning
In recent years, there’s been a push in awareness of “dry drowning” and secondary drowning — which supposedly happen on a delay, after a child has inhaled water. But, according to a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, there’s no such thing as dry drowning.
“Everyone needs to calm down,” American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council member Dr. Peter Wernicki recently told the Chicago Tribune. “This whole thing has totally been over-hyped by social media and people who are not knowledgeable on the subject… That just doesn’t happen,” he said. “A child doesn’t [act fine] for eight hours and then die [from drowning].”
The supposed symptoms of both dry and secondary drowning are the same, according to the American Osteopathic Association: coughing, vomiting, irritability, chest pain, trouble breathing and sleepiness. Of course, you should get medical help if your child is swimming and experiences these symptoms — but remember that “dry drowning” may indeed be a myth. If your child has taken swim lessons and there’s an adult supervising their pool time, never fear — they’re ready for some fun in the sun.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2017.
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