By Lindsay MacAdam
Whether at the cottage, at the beach or in your own backyard, water poses a real threat to children’s safety if parents aren’t extra cautious. While there’s nothing better than cooling down with a swim on a hot day, it’s worth it to spend a few moments each summer reviewing some safety tips and precautions.
Safe Kids Canada, a national organization that promotes strategies to keep kids from accidental injuries, reports that drowning is the second most common cause of injury and death for children under 14 years old. Approximately 58 children drown every year in Canada and another 140 are hospitalized for near-drowning, which sometimes results in brain damage.
Read on to learn how to keep your little water-babies out of harm’s way this season.
Life jackets aren’t only for babies; they’re made for all ages and are a wise choice for youngsters and weak swimmers. Michele Mercier, national manager of swimming and water safety programs at the Canadian Red Cross, doesn’t advise the use of water wings or any floatation devices that aren’t Transport Canada- or Canadian Coastguard-approved. That means you should look for vests and life jackets. Vests are more kid-friendly than the jackets because they’re thinner and thus easier to move in, and they come in lots of fun colours. How do you know if a personal floatation device (PFD) is approved? Look inside: you should see a Transport Canada or Canadian Coastguard logo. The size will also be indicated inside along with the height and weight specifications. “Never buy PFDs too big, no matter how fast your child grows,” says Mercier, “because a snug fit ensures safety.”
Toddlers: The Canadian Red Cross has compiled and reported national drowning statistics for the past 18 years. They’ve found that most drowning victims have been children under four years of age in backyard pools, and two thirds of those incidents happened when adults weren’t around. A recent report from Health Canada reveals that small children can drown quietly, in mere seconds, and in only an inch of water. Mercier adds that “children are naturally drawn to water,” which is why they need constant supervision from a responsible adult. Safe Kids Canada strongly encourages parents to stay within sight and reach of their children at all times when they’re in or around the water.
Mercier also recommends bringing a cordless phone outside, along with a cooler full of drinks and a First Aid kit. This way you won’t have a reason to leave children unattended. The Red Cross strongly encourages all parents with pools to take First Aid and CPR courses in case there’s an emergency. It’s especially important given that CPR guidelines have changed since 2005.
Mercier also stresses the importance of swimming lessons for kids, but she notes that “swimming lessons aren’t drown-proofing lessons,so supervision is still key.”
One of the most important issues with pools is access, especially with children under four. Mercier says that toddler drownings usually occur in swimming pools without appropriate fencing. “Nearly all toddler pool drownings and about one third of all toddler drownings could be eliminated if all home pools were equipped with self-enclosing, self-latching gates.”
Safe Kids Canada says pool fences should be four sided, at least four feet high and must be designed to resist climbing. For additional security, a solid pool cover or a pool alarm should be in place when the pool is not in use — and no, solar covers don’t count — they increase the danger of entanglement because they are made of flexible material.
Under 10 This age group usually encounters pool injuries involving the face. Entering and leaving the pool, slipping on the side, bobbing under water at the edge and jumping backwards are the activities that are usually associated with accidents for this age group. Take precautions by not allowing any running around the pool, and try not to use glass cups and bottles outside. Broken glass is difficult to clean up around the pool and could cause further injuries.
Young Adults: Most swimming pool mishaps amongs young adults happen while diving, reports a recent article from the Canadian Red Cross. Mercier advises a feet-first jump into all backyard pools because they aren’t designed for diving: “They’re either not deep enough or not long enough.” She adds that many pools just don’t have a large enough deep end to complete a dive safely. The Red Cross recommends that water depth be at least twice a child’s height before diving can be considered safe. Neck and back injuries are a common result of diving accidents and can lead to permanent paralysis. These types of injuries are usually the result of diving into water less than five feet deep, and the accident is generally on the victim’s first dive. The divers and the pool owners usually don’t realize that diving is a risky activity in backyard pools, which is why it’s so crucial to understand the risks and have strict pool rules, posted and communicated, that demand feet-first entry.
Tip: Time is crucial for youngsters who fall into the water. If a child is missing, checking the pool first could catch a curious toddler about to jump in unattended.
Race to the island! Canon ball off the dock! There goes dad in the speed boat! Lake swimming should be treated similarly to pool swimming in most ways, but there are some additional safety considerations to keep in mind. Know the area well if your children are going to swim in a lake, says Mercier, and there should be no diving in unfamiliar waters. Ask the neighbours about the area and make sure your kids know the rules: always swim with a buddy, let adults know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone, and never swim in a thunderstorm. Beware of boats in lake water because drivers often don’t have clear enough vision to see someone’s head in the water. “Swimming parallel to the shore instead of in the middle of the lake could avoid a serious scare,” says Mercier. If older kids are really strong swimmers, they don’t need PFDs, Mercier says, but if they’re swimming out to an island in the middle of the lake, it might be a good idea to bring one along in case someone gets tired. Safe Kids Canada advises that PFDs should always be worn for boating, no matter what skill level a swimmer has.
Myth Buster: The “no swimming until an hour after eating” rule came about because swimming on a full stomach is hard on digestion. It’s also harder to be physically active with a tummy full of lunch. Mercier says it’s okay to swim if you’ve just had a light meal, but you might feel sick or have a hard time keeping afloat if you’ve just overindulged.
River accidents usually occur when someone falls into an unexpectedly swollen and fast-moving body of water after a heavy rainfall. Pay attention to water levels and don’t allow kids to play near a river after a rainstorm. Teaching your children about currents is also important if they go swimming or play around rivers or oceans, says Safe Kids Canada. They should understand the dangers of the water and know how to react if they get swept away. Again, it’s critical to know the area where your children are swimming or playing.
“Rubber boots make falling into the river even more dangerous because the boots will fill up with water and weigh the child down,” says Mercier. If you’re concerned, put a lifejacket on top of your child’s raincoat and keep kids within reach.
The ocean is a strong and unpredictable force, so children should be monitored extremely carefully if they decide to venture out into the waves. The Red Cross recommends ensuring there is a lifeguard on duty. Ask the lifeguard about the water conditions and where the safest area is to swim. Similar to lake swimming, make sure kids always swim with a buddy in the ocean. Ask them to swim parallel to the shore, and ensure they wear a PFD if they’re not strong swimmers. Better yet, swim with your children to keep an even closer eye on them.
WATER PARK POINTERS
Water parks are always an exciting experience for youngsters, but it’s important to make sure they know the rules and follow them. When you enter the park, Mercier advises parents to read the rules with their children. Water slide restrictions are also very important and should always be followed. Mercier says, “These restrictions are based on applied physics, so to ignore them is to put your children’s safety in jeopardy.” For water sliding to be a safe activity, children must be the proper height and weight, and they must go down the slide using the specified body position.
Now that you’re thoroughly informed, enjoy a summer of safe splashing with your kids!