Common Myths About Kids and Water Safety
When it comes to parenting, we all like to think we’re experts, or at the very least, pretty aware of what’s going on. However, when it comes to water safety, there are a lot of common misconceptions and myths about drowning that parents entertain.
At Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, our mission is more than just teaching children how to swim; it’s about educating communities worldwide about the importance of water safety and teaching them ways to prevent drowning, and that starts at home with those who love children the most: parents, grandparents and caregivers.
The Four Most Common Myths About Swim Safety
In a concerted effort to ensure that you are fully aware of the facts surrounding children’s safety in the water and to educate you on drowning prevention, we want to share with you some facts followed by some of the most common swim safety myths.
- Nearly 800 children drown in the U.S. annually, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.
- Drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4, and the second leading cause for children up to age 14, according to the CDC.
Swim Safety Myth #1: I will hear my child if he/she gets in trouble in the water and starts to drown.
According to a survey by Safe Kids Worldwide, nearly half of the parents surveyed believed this common misconception, but it simply isn’t true. There’s no splashing, no waving, no gasping, no yelling. Drowning looks nothing like Hollywood theatrics. Drowning is silent. You won’t hear it, and you’ll only see it if you’re paying close attention.
Children make noise—lots of noise. If they’re quiet, it’s important to find out why, especially if you are near the water. If a child is in aquatic distress, they may be able to shout, and you shouldn’t ignore their pleas. But if they’re in real trouble, they may be physiologically unable to call for help. Natural instinct will take over and the brain will prioritize primary functions such as breathing over secondary functions such as speech.
Watch this video and learn more about one Aqua-Tots mom’s experience with drowning, the realization of how silently and quickly an accident can happen and how the skills learned in swim lessons can save lives.
Swim Safety Myth #2: Nothing bad will happen if I take my full attention off my child for a couple of minutes.
Drowning happens quickly, and the reality is that you may have less than a minute to react once a child begins to struggle. Although there are several layers of protection to keep children safe in the water (swim lessons, fences/barriers, CPR, etc.), supervision plays a key role in safety. In their study, Safe Kids Worldwide found that lack of supervision was present in most drowning cases.
“Supervision was missing almost half of the time that children drowned in pools. Even when present, caregivers were often not providing adequate supervision due to drugs, alcohol, injury/illness or distraction (56 percent of the 659 cases where supervision was present). For natural water settings, 6 out of 10 fatal drownings happened in the presence of a supervising adult, and in 4 out of 10 cases, supervision was needed but absent.”
We know that constant visual supervision of children in and around water can be a challenge and that distraction is most often unintentional, but vigilant attention can literally save lives. 91% of parents surveyed said that their activities while around the water included supervising their children, but they also reported being distracted by such things as phones and reading books.
To keep water safety in perspective, please remember that small children are exposed to enough water in the bathtub to warrant constant supervision. In the 10 seconds it takes to cross a room to get a towel, an infant can be submerged. In the two minutes it takes to answer the phone, a child can lose consciousness. In the four minutes it takes to walk to the front door and sign for a package, a child who is submerged in a bathtub or pool can sustain permanent brain damage. Any amount of water that can cover the mouth and nose, whether from a pool, bathtub or bucket is enough to warrant supervision.
Swim Safety Myth #3: If there is a lifeguard present, I don’t need to worry as much about actively supervising my child in and around the water.
Safe Kids Worldwide’s study revealed, “Eight out of ten parents surveyed said having lifeguards at a pool is an important safety measure, but more than half (56 percent) think that, when present, a lifeguard is the primary person responsible for their child’s supervision at the pool.”
Lifeguards have a tremendous amount of responsibility while at work, and many factors play into their effectiveness to keep children safe: time of day, level of experience, number of children in the water and adult-to-child ratio. Horseplay and running around the perimeter of the pool can make the job of a lifeguard even more challenging, causing distraction when there should be undivided attention.
Many would be surprised to know that the role of lifeguards is not, in fact, to supervise the children but to scan the water and in the event of trouble, rescue and resuscitate. Lifeguards are expected to “scan 180 degrees, every 10 seconds, from top to bottom, from right to left,” according to mystatesman.com. Fortunately, settings where lifeguards are present increase the likelihood of a positive outcome in the case of an emergency.
With that in mind, lifeguards should not be viewed as babysitters, water attendants or substitutes for parental supervision. They are teammates, another layer of protection, valuable assets and trained professionals in case of a life-threatening situation. The unparalleled attention and cognizant eye of the parent is invaluable around the water.
Here are a few tips to remember when swimming with children.
- Get in the water with small children. Even if they know how to swim, remain within an arm’s reach or safe distance in case of an emergency.
- If your children are older, constant supervision is still necessary.
- Unplug around the pool. The world’s largest lifeguard association has warned that parents absorbed in their cellphones is a growing problem. Reading, texting and talking can wait.
- Designate/rotate a Water Watcher to ensure that a responsible adult is always supervising the children.
Swim Safety Myth 4: If my child has had swim lessons, I don’t have to worry about him or her drowning.
“60 percent of parents surveyed would not worry as much about drowning if their child had swim lessons, yet 47 percent of children ages 10-17 who drowned in pools were able to swim,” according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Being able to swim and having the proper swimming skill development necessary for safety are two different things, leaving many parents with a false sense of security.
Unfortunately, parents may overestimate their child’s swimming ability. The study goes on to explain, “Research looking at how well parents can judge their child’s actual swimming skills suggests that only the highest level of reported swimming skill is related to actual observed swimming ability. If this assumption holds for parents in our survey, the majority may believe their child is able to swim better than he or she truly can.”
It is extremely important to understand that not all swim lessons are created equally. Content and length of lessons can vary greatly from program to program, ranging from daily lessons at a one-week summer camp to weekly lessons at a year-round swim school. Completion of any program in its entirety is vital. Effective swim curriculum is created to build one skill upon another, and the more comprehensive the program, the more knowledgeable your children will be in and around the water.
At Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, we are passionate about water safety and know that drowning is preventable. We desire that all parents, grandparents and caregivers experience peace of mind when children are exposed to water, and we understand that every child’s ability, readiness to learn and the time it takes them to master each swimming skill varies. That is why our proven curriculum, 30 years in the making, is based on eight levels of progression. With over four million swim lessons taught annually worldwide, we are here to ensure that your children are safe in and around the water for a lifetime.