Please Don’t Drown

That was the glib farewell I gave to the kids as I dropped them off for a swim. Of course it was a swimming pool with lifeguards, and not the lake that was a short walk away.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere where the rivers are running fast and cold, it is drowning season.

And it is not just rivers, kids (and adults) will get in trouble in lakes, ponds, seaside beaches and even small kiddy pools. I used to think it was no big deal to fall into the lake since I am a good swimmer, until a canoe flip into the very cold lake shocked me almost to a point of paralysis. The reality of the danger became very real.

Please read the CDC’s Unintentional Drowning Fact Sheet and Mayo Clinic’s Water Safety Tips. And remember that drowning is silent.

Okay, now that the science has been given, it is time for personal observations:

Swimming lessons are wonderful. I loved the parent and tot lessons we did when they were young, but they did not drown proof any kid. For one child it made him want to jump into fountains, off of docks and get wet at any opportunity. Shiny sparkling water had an appeal to him, and because of him I initiated a policy that feet stay on the ground when leaning over any railing. Another child would say “I go this way”, let go of me and promptly sink to the bottom of the pool (very skinny kid, my sister accused me of not feeding him). Fortunately he came up all smiles.

The type of swim course is probably not important as long as the skills are taught, and that the kid and the teacher get along. The system our pools used was the Red Cross Water Safety Classes. For young children it included instruction on the use of life jackets. It all depends on what is in your area and what fits your budget. Until a severe budget crunch our city offered free swim classes at local lake beaches, and some elementary schools near a pool will include a some swim lessons in their physical education program. There are sometimes scholarships available for lessons. In our area they are being funded by a sports clothing company (to get more customers) and the children’s hospital (to get fewer patients!).

Before you take your child to their first swim lesson make sure they are comfortable in a swimming pool. Most pools have a family swim time where you can take your non-swimming child and play in the shallow end. Or take the child to a public wading pool this summer where he/she can get used to the splashing and the noise of all the other kids. Sometimes a parent decides that it is summer and it is time for their four year old to swim. That is often the child crying in fear at the first lesson. Please don’t do that.

If you do not know how to swim, or are out of practice: consider some swim lessons for yourself. There is nothing wrong with learning how later in life. I now get swimming tips from my younger son who is a lifeguard and swim instructor. He started to swim better than me when he was five years old.

Please do not think that water wings or flotation swimsuits will prevent drowning. They are not designed to keep their heads out of the water, and they don’t help with learning how to swim. Just don’t use them. Use a real life jacket, and one that is designed for the child’s age. Baby and toddler life jackets should have a collar that prevents the face from going into the water, plus a handle to grab. Older kids can manage with a water ski jacket. A good swim class should include a lesson on the types of life jackets and how to use them.

Use life vests when you are in a boat. Don’t just put them on the children, wear them yourselves. Be a model for your children. And they are now required in our county rivers!

If your local pool offers a summer swim team, give that a try. Our pool had a “fun first” swim team in the summer where the only requirement was the ability to swim the length of the pool. It is a great way to gain skills and self confidence. I told my kids that if they spent the hour swimming in the morning they could spend the rest of day doing nothing. They rebelled after the second summer. Oh, well. Some of their friends are still on swim teams, so it can actually work.

Have a good summer. Spend some time on and in the water.

Please don’t drown.

Swim team medals are actually earned!

19 Responses to Please Don’t Drown

  1. Thank you so much for this. It”s a big deal. I was a Swim America certified instructor and I adore the Red Cross Water Safety materials. Drowning kills. It kills at the beach, it kills in the pool, it kills in that weird drainage ditch behind your house, it kills in the bathtub. Teach your kids water safety and for goodness sake get them in swim classes EARLY. And be careful with your classes. You don’t want ones that over-emphasize being “comfortable” in the water. You also don’t want a mom-and-me class, as much fun as you think it will be.

    • Chris says:

      You also don’t want a mom-and-me class, as much fun as you think it will be.

      Sniff… I liked the mom-and-me class.

      But realistically I understand your concerns. My younger son (the one pictured with the medals) absolutely refused to do anything for me in the pool. He would not jump into my arms, nor blow bubbles for me… he was the one who let go and promptly sank to the bottom of the pool!

      I admit it, I used that time to get in a bit of swim time with a kid in tow.

      When he was three years old I signed him up for the three-year-old class, which was three kids and one instructor. Half the time he was the only student, and he blossomed with that teacher. He did everything the swim teacher had him do, and was swimming like a champ in no time.

      It was at this time I realized that this was a child who could never be home schooled. He did not take any instruction from his mother.

      • The jumping into arms is another thing we frowned upon :) We did assist with jumps, but from the side, which always ended in a back float.

        And, yes, you don’t want a screaming, frightened child. You also don’t want a kid who thinks flopping under and wiggling is swimming. You want kids confident in their ability to float, get to the side, and assist their siblings or friends while knowing that water has its risks.

      • Chris says:

        We did assist with jumps, but from the side, which always ended in a back float.

        Well that was the plan. It just never got that far! (that same child is now a lifeguard and teaches swimming with those same Red Cross guidelines)

        Even though the AAP believes that swim lessons are okay for kids aged one to four years old, they still don’t have the mental maturity to realize the risks. There is also a risk of kids drinking too much water.

        I personally believe having young kids in the pool with a parent before at least age four or so is strictly for fun. There is no way that will “drown proof” a kid.

        Of course, then they become teenagers, and then all bets are off. Especially if they are boys. This is the age where they attempt more than their skills, like swimming from a boat to shore, and end up getting in trouble.

    • Chris says:

      You don’t want ones that over-emphasize being “comfortable” in the water.

      I think I understand a bit. I guess being used to the water is different than being “comfortable.”

      Obviously you would not have been happy with a very scared child crying at the side of the pool refusing to go in because that was his/her first exposure. You, as an instructor, should not make a child “comfortable”, but the parent should have at least exposed the child to water.

      I was a big fan of the large public wading pools. Because I seemed to be cursed with summer pregnancies (both boys born in September), I spent the summer before second child’s birth sitting in a wading pool while older son splashed about.

      After he was born, I spent lots of time at the pool with older child lessons. I did mom-and-me lessons… and I did family playtime. Youngest child got mom-and-me, but refused the three-year-old lessons (I had a cast on my leg so could not go in!). But she learned to swim as a four year old.

      I can’t help it. I like swimming. Must drag kids with me.

  2. mamamara says:

    ::shudders:: I’m terrified of drowning and even more terrified of my kids drowning. I can swim just well enough to keep from drowning, but not very efficiently.

    Unfortunately, the camp I signed my daughter up for this summer is perfect except…I’ve just realized they go play at the pool, but don’t do any actual swim lesson. Ugh. Maybe I can find a pool in August that’s doing swim lessons for her age and my son’s age around the same time?

  3. Erika says:

    Yeah. That was alarmist.
    Swim lessons were great. I was so damned traumatized of the water afterwards that I never did drown (obviously…)

    I’m taking my kids to the pool/beach. I’m letting my older one learn to swim with a floata-vest (she does laps around in the pool in it at 4 years old, going through the motions of swimming), and I’m keeping a careful eye on them. B/c that is what you do. Realistic expectations, noted danger, then actually have practical fun. My brother and I both surf. Sometimes it was dangerous. But that is what it is. I won’t prevent the kids from surfing later (and I won’t require them to wear a life-vest while doing it) a simple talk of what to watch for, then watching them yourself as they learn is what is called for.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah. That was alarmist.

      Oh, deer. I really did not mean it to be that way.

      One of the reason may be that our county has enacted rules about life vest use for local rivers. And this past weekend there was more news of people needing to be rescued from a snow melt swollen river. I am actually ambivalent about the rules.

      And I really really hate those little inflatable swim bands on arms. They pretty much keep kids from actually moving their arms. I also dislike any kind of false security from the bits of styrofoam stuffed into swimsuits. Which is why I noted them as “personal observations.”

      Could you tell us what traumatized in your swim lessons so that others may avoid such classes for their kids?

      Though I suspect it may have been the teacher, which is what I feel is the most important component of any class. While my son would never do anything with me, he was the most enthusiastic compliant three year old for his teenage swim teacher. I was a bit shocked when the young man literally tossed my child in the air and let him land in the water to swim toward him.

      I know absolutely nothing about surfing. Only that around here it is done while wearing wetsuits.

      • Yeah, the consensus of lifeguarding and instructor opinion at the school where I worked is that floaties and floating suits kill children. Life vests of course are different.

  4. Erika says:

    I use the styrofoam swim suit for my daughter. We call it the “balloon suit”. That is sort of what it looks like. It does keep her head afloat. She, and a daughter of my friend, are now swimming around the pool in them, using their arms and legs to move through the water. It was exciting. She learned it just recently and was so happy, she actually laughed the entire time (despite being told to close her mouth so she wouldn’t swallow water)-it was so nice to watch. And it does enable me to take both of my children swimming, as I must carry my son constantly if he is not on the steps. But, now my daughter wants to swim beside me on her own. That was really special. I honestly adore that balloon suit.
    I know on this blog, you didn’t mean it that way. As parents, we get bombarded with how to “safely” raise our children. But if you take away all of those experiences…like surfing…ahh…idk. Across the world, children are playing in pools and riding nurse sharks. No, I don’t want to let mine do that. But I see the redeeming value of it all. So I do plan to put mine on a boogie board when they want to bother with it. And I’m keeping the balloon suit.
    Swim lessons were traumatizing b/c to help us hold our breath, they forced us underneath the water, and held a kick board over our heads while keeping pressure on our shoulders to force us to stay under water and hold our breath. It was a handful of seconds. But I remember crying after. And never wanting to go back.
    I have ZERO desire for either of my kids to take “swimming lessons”. ZERO.

  5. Erika says:

    And yeah…floaties do not kill children. Drowning does. Complacency does. Floaties…come the f*^*%^&$#%^#$%^ on…

    • Considering that floatie attachments can contribute to floating the wrong way up which can drown a disoriented child, yes, floaties kill.

      And I’m sorry you had a terrible instructor. No one should do that, and I certainly never did. Your idea that this is what swim lessons is about is flawed though. I hope your children learn in spite of it.

  6. Chris says:

    Just a reminder to actually read the CDC’s and Mayo Clinic’s links in this article.

    Drowning is the second leading cause of death among children age one to fourteen. That statistic is not an anecdote, that is the data.

    Plus, swimming instruction should not involve torture. If your child has issues with a swimming instructor, then request another one or go to another pool for lessons.

  7. Erika says:

    Yes, that sure is the data. But watching your children takes the risk down enough to LIVE WITH and allow them to participate in a recreational activity celebrated the world over (w/o them being professional trained-which might lower my watchfulness, thereby increasing their risks ). Wasn’t this site supposed to be some sort of beacon, kind of to beat back the waves of bullshit parents deal with constantly? Cause…not feeling here, actually. This sort of sounds like middle-class paranoia with a slightly different drum beat.

    ANYTHING your child does when you are not looking can be very dangerous. You are required to sort of participate in this whole swimming thing…or parenting in general. Break down the stats. Show me who this happens to. B/c for it to be so common, we do not know a single person for whom this has been a (horrible) reality. Could it be where we reside? Or the fact that the water is introduced early and the entire family is involved in swimming? Or the fact that we don’t have a private pool for them to get into, or know anyone rich enough who does? Hmm. I wonder. Maybe it’s just that we watch them. And guide them into swimming minus the fear and panic.

    You watch them, and guide them as you see fit. Not just for swimming, but for all things potentially dangerous, and just for all things in general, actually. If others find the need, swim lessons are fine. If an upped risk is too much for you, skip the swim suits. It is your child: There are a ton of other risk factors you guys are not touching here though, and you need to be aware of that as well.

    ..Did you just say you hope my children learn to swim in spite of not having lessons? Or maybe you meant in spite of my traumatic memory??

    You do know people swim w/o lessons, right? I mean professional ones. Usually an experienced family member is a teacher…but still. Really?

    • Chris says:

      I gave the CDC site where the statistic was cited. If you have a problem with it, please bring it up with them. If you want specifics, there are links the the statistics here.

      All of the lessons my kids had were in public pools. I just happen to live in a city with ten public swimming pools, and several county pools a bit further away. When funds were available the city provided free swim lessons at pubic beaches on a couple of lakes (one just happens to be a very big lake and provides the city’s entire eastern border). My son works as a lifeguard at a public pool for the city’s parks department. The same place where a child can get a scholarship and vouchers for lessons. And the same place where the elementary school three blocks away offers swimming lessons as part of their physical education program, and the public middle school had a free after school swim program.

      I also noted that I don’t believe that giving a child swimming lessons under a certain age can drown proof them. And, in reality it does not work when they are pre-teens and young teenagers, where skill does not match bravado.

      Yes, there are other things that kill children. Unfortunately the second most common one is drowning. And it is often not fast running rivers due to snow melt (which is our county’s main culprit at the moment), but simple things like five gallon buckets and bathtubs. The most common killer of children is motor vehicle accidents. I am assuming that you put your children in properly secured child seats, obey all traffic laws, and hope that you live where there are others who do likewise.

      Do read the links in the fourth paragraph of the article, and please don’t drown.

  8. Erika says:

    Do lessons matter in the cases where children drown in buckets and bathtubs? Or does supervision make the difference?

    I don’t mean to be mean. And I don’t have a problem with the data (though I’ve seen how it can be misused if it isn’t deconstructed properly) and I do have a problem with people using data as a fear-weapon.

    Those are great resources you have found for your kids. We lack that. Lots of people lack that who don’t reside in Yuppy Mcsuburbs.

    Comparing lessons to a car seat? A kind of armor proven to save lives hundreds of times, whose development is overseen and focused on? To something that is for the most part to make parents feel better?

    No. Not at all.

    And you’d better believe my kids wear that armor in the car.

    I’ve seen someone who worked as a guard at a company pool nearly drown in a rinse cycle, granted it was a horrible one. But he seemed to just forget who he was, what he knew, and panicked. Which is what most of us will do in those situations-especially children-and especially in those life and death seconds. Someone barking orders to him, and jumping in to guide saved him. Not what he knew. It’s just anecdotal, I realize. But I understand things like that are common. First Aid/Cpr training isn’t covered in our area lessons, but it’s something we are certified in (due to occupations) and I think those would actually be of more use than swim lessons and anti-floatation stances.

    If you believe this is a necessity, believe it alone has the power to save human lives- write congress about making swim lessons mandatory in all areas. Those kids totally don’t need food, better education, college funding, etc… They need to know how to swim and some basis safety moves. To keep from drowning. In buckets. And tubs.

    Seriously, have a great summer. Just don’t use fear and statistics that weren’t laid out in detail to issue fear based recommendations that are not proven (or even OVERSEEN) methods.

    • Chris says:

      Of course, my bias is my experience. The lessons prior to age three were done by the parents. I just have kids who would not listen to me, but they will listen to an instructor.

      No, read it again. I am not comparing lessons to car seats. Motor vehicular accidents are a more common than drowning. Drowning is one of the major causes of death in children. I only meant to give suggestions on how to reduce chances. Just like car seats are not going to protect a child 100%.

      Pointing out how to get free or reduced rates for lessons is not a plea to make them mandatory. I am sorry that you had bad instruction, but that is not the norm.

  9. Erika says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the point. And it is nice to see reminders that water is an extremely dangerous substance for kids to be put in, and that is indisputable. We do need reminders of that. A lot.
    But quality lessons are not available in MANY areas. It can come off as a class-based argument-playing it off as a necessity- when it fact it is more of a bonus (car safety is necessity, and parents who don’t get carseats do not take their baby home) and sometimes it just doesn’t take-or even matter when the really bad stuff happens (yeah, that is sort of like carseats).
    Truly, most of us do w/o swim lessons-or are like me…and didn’t get anything from it, trauma aside. And in coastal areas, especially in other countries, it’s not something considered necessary. Among richer people, it’s kind of played up. I don’t actually think it is the cost of lessons, but I could be wrong.
    Like you stated, our bias…our experience. Thanks for the discussion, though.

    • Chris says:

      How did the fact that swimming lessons are offered in a public school somehow get turned into “Among richer people, it’s kind of played up”? Especially since I even mentioned that vouchers were offered in my city, an actual seaport, yet you say “And in coastal areas,…it’s not something considered necessary.” For some reason our Children’s Hospital thinks it is necessary, which is why they offer vouchers (click on the first two links, the original reason was prompted by snow melt swollen rivers).

      You seem to have lots of issues with this subject, and have taken it past what I intended when I wrote it. Again I say, please read the links in the fourth paragraph. Ignore my personal notes.

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