SUMMER IS HERE
DO YOU KNOW HOW TO RECOGNIZE TROUBLE IN THE WATER?
ARE YOU SURE?
My mom is a fish in the water. She’s always been good at everything. Because of that, it didn’t occur to her that I might struggle with swimming. I did. I still do.
Growing up, we didn’t have a pool or regular access to one and there was absolutely no money for swim lessons, so swimming was a skill that I didn’t need much. However, when I became a teenager and all the other “cool kids” were hanging out at the pool, that’s what I wanted to do also. It was then that I found myself in several moments of panic in water. When in trouble, my body would be vertical in the water and no amount of treading helped because all my physical effort was focused on getting my mouth above water for my next gulp of air. No one around me ever knew I was in trouble.
The scariest thing though, was seeing my daughter in a similar situation. She has no fear of the water, but after three years of swim lessons is only now gaining the swim skills to back up her bravado. Several times I’ve had to come to her rescue and she knows that she is not allowed in the water unless mommy’s eyes are on her. Thank goodness I know what to look for.
I’m so proud of preschool girl. She’s been heartily working with swim coaches for three years and has “the most amazing frog kicks” Coach Courtney has ever seen.
What Drowning *Really* Looks Like
Because of my own experiences, I know that drowning doesn’t look like the dramatic splashing, gulping for air scene Hollywood has painted for us over and over again. Rather, the Instinctive Drowning Response, named by Francesco Pia, Ph.D., is a relatively quiet sequence of events that humans do in order to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. Last summer, I read an article by Mario Vittone in which he included Dr. Pia’s summary of the drowning response. I could relate to each and every item on the list, but accomplished swimmers or those who have had extensive lessons may have never seen or experienced them and, therefore, may not know:
- drowning people are physiologically unable to call for help
- drowning people’s mouths are not above the surface long enough to call for help
- drowning people cannot wave for help
- drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements
- from beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response, the body remains vertical in the water
If you see these signs, you have a matter of seconds to provide assistance. Vittone went on to provide other overt signs of drowning:
- head low in the water, mouth at water level
- head titled back with mouth open
- eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- eyes closed
- hair over forehead or eyes
- not using legs, or vertical in the water
- hyperventilating or gasping for air
- trying to swim in a particular direction but not making any progress
- trying to roll over on the back
- appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
And just like any other time, kids make noise when they play. If they are quiet in the water, you need to investigate!
Basic Water Safety for Kids
Because my mom is naturally an accomplished swimmer and never had formal training, it didn’t occur to her to share basic water safety information with me. But we MUST talk with our children about water safety. They are not ducks and their instincts are not always right! There are many wonderful internet resources for extensive information such as The American Red Cross, SafeKids.org and KidsHealth.org from Nemours Children’s Hospital, but the following are what have helped me and my daughter become more accomplished swimmers and can help swimmers of all skill level:
- Always teach children that “the wall” is their best friend. Teach them that, as they jump in, they need to turn and “go to the wall!” This may seem like a “simpleton” suggestion, but sometimes you have to say it out loud for children to register. Also, if they are aiming for the sides as they fly off the diving board, they are that much closer when they land and weak swimmers don’t get stranded in the middle of the pool.
- When in a situation where you are struggling remember 1-2-3…1) take a gulp of air 2) put your head under the water facing the wall and 3) KICK! Getting the body horizontal and kicking toward the wall can LITERALLY be a lifesaver.
It’s vitally important that children and adults know how to help themselves in the water, but it is also just as important to know how to help others. The most important thing we can do is “keep our eyes open and assume nothing.” Supervision is key, but so is vigilance. Don’t assume that everyone in the pool has the necessary skills to be there. Whenever we are at the pool, I am that boring mom with her eyes on the water. I don’t engage in much conversation because I have my eyes on my children AND everyone else’s. If I see a little one in trouble, I get to them. Sadly, I’ve had to do this several times.
Not only do I keep my eyes on the water, but I ask my children to do the same. I remind them that if a friend is in trouble, that person may not be able to call for help, but “you can on their behalf.” I also stress to my kiddos that they are NEVER to jump in the water to help someone. If a child sees someone struggling in the water, their first instinct is to jump in and try to help. You must tell them otherwise or that is what they will do and get themselves in trouble. If your child sees someone struggling, they should:
- shout “dial 9-1-1″
- grab a noodle or other flotation device
- lay on their stomach with only their arms extended over the edge of the pool and extend the noodle to the person in need
- continue shouting “dial 9-1-1″ until someone comes to help
It is important to go over these things with your children so that they can do the right thing in a dangerous situation.
All of the above sound stressful? It does to me. That’s why we have a sprinkler (okay, three) in our back yard. So, if you’re like me and want to sit back, relax and socialize, get yourself a back yard sprinkler.