Living in this part of the world means that we are blessed with more than our fair share of sunshine, with water activities being a firm favourite for adults and children alike. However, fun by the pool can so easily turn to tragedy if younger children are not supervised correctly. Nearly 1,000 children die each year from drowning, with the majority of deaths occurring in home swimming pools. It is the second leading cause of accidental death for people between the ages of 5 and 24. By making sure that your child is properly supervised at the beach and by the pool you can keep them safe from harm and enjoy all the fun that water has to offer.
Keeping your child and other children safe near water
- Ensure constant supervision: Children need constant supervision around water, whether this is the sea, a swimming pool, an ornamental water feature or even a bathtub. Young children can drown in less than 6 centimetres of water, so care needs to be taken around even the shallowest of pools. Always watch children closely when they’re in or near any water.
- Learn how to swim: Now that your child is 4 years of age, they should be ready to learn how to swim. Check with your nearby centers for classes taught by qualified instructors. If you haven’t learnt yet – now is your opportunity! You need to be able to swim yourself if you are to supervise your child in or near water. Once your child has learnt how to swim, they will still need to be supervised in or near water as injuries can easily result from slips or falls, which can lead to drowning.
- Encourage responsible behaviour: Children shouldn’t run or push each other around a pool. Make sure that older children are aware that there are younger ones around and if you observe boisterous playing, remove your child to a quieter area where you can supervise them more closely.
- Ensure they wear flotation devices: Make sure your child wears correct-fitting, approved flotation devices when they are near water. Children under the age of 5 years should wear a flotation vest with a strap between the legs and head support to keep their head up and their face out of the water. Arm devices such as water wings are not effective protection against drowning.
- Ensure they are adequately hydrated: Energetic children need regular fluids, as otherwise they can become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include feeling lightheaded, nauseas and dizzy, which can be a particular concern if experienced around water.
- Make sure they don’t get cold: Swimming and playing in water during the winter months can mean that a child can become cold very quickly. Body temperature drops more rapidly in water than on land and hypothermia (a core body temperature of less than 35 degrees Centigrade [95 degrees Fahrenheit]) can easily set in. If your child starts to shiver or complain of muscle cramps, you should remove them from the water immediately and warm them up.
- Exercise special caution at the beach: The beach holds special dangers for your child. Waves can easily knock them over and currents drag them out to deeper water. Only allow them near the water once you have ensured that conditions are safe (by checking that there is a green flag or by asking the beach lifeguard). You should only let your 4 year-old play near the water’s edge at the beach and make sure that they don’t turn their back on the water for any length of time. There might also be hazards in the form of discarded litter, which can include bottles that can easily become broken and then buried under sand. Check your environment for any dangers and make sure your child wears rubber beach footwear.
- Exercise responsibility to others: Children with diarrhoea should not go swimming in public pools, as some parasites that cause diarrhoea can survive for a long time in water, even chlorinated water. Children, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system can particularly susceptible to picking up these and other infections, so if your child has diarrhoea, they should not go swimming in pools for at least two weeks after their last episode.
- Make sure you can contact help if needed: Taking a fully charged cellular phone with you when at the pool or beach means that you can quickly call for assistance if you need it. Keep the phone handy at all times, but if you receive a call, keep it short, so that you are not distracted from your supervising role.
What to do in an emergency
Speed is of the essence if you find a child who is unresponsive in the water. In this instance, you should immediately remove them while signalling loudly for assistance. If someone else is available to help you, ask them to call the emergency number while you ensure that the child’s air passages are clear. If the child is not breathing, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be commenced immediately. This is best done by a person who is trained in the technique. Advice from the emergency operator can be followed, but you should consider learning how to conduct proper CPR from a trained provider – it is a life skill that can make all the difference in a situation like this and indeed in other situations where a child or adult is found to be unresponsive.