Today I am working with Nationwide on a sponsored post about their Make Safe Happen campaign to talk about water safety, which is such an important issue.
My dad once told me a story about when he was little. He was at the community swimming pool with his parents. His parents were sitting by the side of the pool, talking. My dad was playing in the water.
He was walking in the water when he came to the slant in the water that leads you from the shallow end to the deep end. He slid down that ramp and was soon fully immersed in the water, unable to stand with his head above the water. He couldn’t get back to the shallow end. He was frozen in the water, unable to breathe.
From under the water, he remembers looking up at his parents, hoping that they would turn to see him under the water, standing there, not able to breathe.
What seemed like minutes later, his neighbor, a teenage girl only a few years older than him, jumped in and saved him.
That’s what drowning looks like.
Drowning doesn’t look like drowning.
We are so trained, perhaps from movies, to think that drowning is going to a violent, loud, repeated call for help. We believe that there will be splashing and yelling.
Most victims of drowning don’t make a sound. They don’t flail their arms about, searching for help. These actions don’t show what drowning looks like or sounds like in real life. In real life, they rarely wave, yell, splash or yell.
This explains why drowning is the second highest cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under. It is the number one cause of injury death for children ages 1-4. Make Safe Happen found that in 2016, open water drownings (in lakes, oceans, rivers, etc.) made up 43 percent of fatal childhood drownings, compared to 38 percent in pools, 9 percent in bathtubs and 10 percent unspecified.
Similarly, accidental injury is the leading cause of death of children 0-12. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 million children are treated at emergency rooms across the country, and more than 9,000 children die each year due to accidental injuries. A champion for child safety and wellbeing for more than 60 years, Nationwide launched Make Safe Happen in 2015 to empower parents and caregivers with tools and resources to make homes safer.
Make Safe Happen and Safe Kids Worldwide found that despite a 28 percent decrease since 2000, the year 2016 saw the most recent significant increase in fatal drownings in children 0-19 years of age. Tragically, more than 1,000 children fatally drowned in 2016. Of these drownings, an estimated 70 percent occur between May and September.
This shows how different drowning really is from our preconceived notions. While drowning in swimming pools gets significant attention, the fact is that more children and teens fatally drown in open water – especially during the summer months.
There is limited visibility in lakes, ponds, and oceans because of murky waters that tend to hide logs, rocks and uneven surfaces. It can make it hard to see if a child falls in unexpectedly. I also now remind our children to always go into the water feet first, after hearing a story about a log that was hidden under the water and not discovered until a local teenage boy dove into the water and hit the wood. It was an extremely long and difficult recovery for him.
We live near a lake, and we spend most of the summer near the ocean, so it is imperative that my husband and I are aware of what we need to know to ensure our kids are safe around open water. Between boating, kayaking, tubing, or just swimming… we spend a lot of time near and in the water.
We have had to teach our kids to always wear a life jacket, because of depth, distance, and drop-offs. Unlike a pool, open water rarely has depth markings, making it difficult to know if kids are getting into water that is over their heads. (This is why they ALWAYS need to be wearing a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket.)
Unfortunately, I have witnessed this first hand.
Last year, at the beach, our daughter was running through the folly – those spots on the beach, near the water, where the ocean water has created mini “pools” all along the sand. As she was running through them, she didn’t realize that one of them dropped off and was much deeper than the others. It is so hard to tell when these changes occur because of how murky the water is.
She was running one minute and completely under the water the next. Unable to swim, she would have been stuck under the water if I had not seen her. Fortunately, I had been keeping a close eye so was able to run in, completely dressed and grab her out of the ocean water.
Luckily, she was only upset and cold, but not hurt. It’s surprising how cold open water can be, compared to a pool.
Cold water can affect a child’s swimming ability. Falling into cold water can result in shock, which can lead to panic and drowning. This can be especially important if you are boating. It’s important to keep in mind that if a child falls in, the water could be very cold. Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature as best you can and always use a life jacket, even while boating.
Our situation had a good outcome, but others are not so lucky. It is important to always choose a designated swimming area and check for signs warning about potential hazards.
On the same note, it is important to watch for currents and tides. There is a reason that our children start out playing in front of us and a few moments later are floating away from us. Currents cannot be seen. In the ocean, rip currents can be very dangerous if children do not understand how to deal with a crashing wave or learn how to escape a riptide or strong current.
It’s also equally important to watch for weather changes. Stay out of the water if you hear thunder or see lightning, and remember that channels and other human-made waterways can quickly fill up once rain begins. To reduce the risk of drowning accidents, remember to always watch kids when they are in or around water. Keep young children and inexperienced swimmers within arm’s reach of an adult. Make sure older children swim with a partner every time. Never leave a young child, even for a moment.
If you are boating, or are in or around open water, be sure to have your children in a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket in and around open water. Get a life jacket (also known as a personal floatation device) that is appropriate for a child’s weight and the water activity. Our kids know that they cannot be on the boat or in the water without one.
Of course, make sure to learn water rescue skills and CPR. It is important to know how to respond to an emergency without putting yourself at risk as well. Learning basic rescue skills and CPR may help you save a child’s life. I take CPR-certification classes every year at our local hospital. It’s a risk that I’m not willing to take. I want our kids to be safe… and I want them to have fun.
Please get the Make Safe Happen app to find more ways to keep your children safe near and in water.