Parenting – Water Safety
Everything you need to know about keeping your little ones safe around water
A two-and-a-half-year-old child follows his older brother into the family swimming pool. The older brother is oblivious to this; his deep dive and underwater swim to the other side of the pool may feel like it was a short one, but it only takes 20 – 60 seconds for a child to drown.
The neighbour, Max Boyana* recalls hearing a little scream while the young one was drowning in the pool, and came charging to get the little boy out. Their parents hadn’t heard anything – the music was too loud and they hadn’t seen that the boy had gone after his brother. The neighbour was unfortunately too late. The little boy had inhaled too much water into his lungs, his heart stopped and he died on the scene, despite attempts to resuscitate him.
This incident is one that’s quite common in South Africa, especially around holiday season. In fact, Medical Research Council data shows that drowning remains the leading cause of unnatural deaths in children under the age of five. At least one child drowns every day in South Africa, particularly children under 14. For every child that drowns, five are left brain damaged.
“This year, in Joburg alone, we’ve reported 53 deaths by drowning, 43 of these were children. Children from informal settlements drown mostly from accidents that occur from playing by the river streams or dams. In formal residential areas, most children drowned due to uncovered swimming pools that left them vulnerable to drowning incidents. Most of these children didn’t have swimming skills,” says Robert Mulaudzi, a Joburg Emergency Services spokesperson.
A QUICK, SILENT DEATH
“Most people think drowning is this dramatic Hollywood scene, where the victims are screaming and trying to breathe. That is rarely the case. A child who drowns normally drowns quietly and you really only realise they’ve drowned once it’s too late,” stresses Robert Daniels, a Western Cape Emergency Services spokesperson.
This happened to a Cape Town mother of a two-year-old boy who accidentally drowned in the family pool. The mother, a blogger, Jane Fraser details how she had left her son in their dining room, and a minute later, he wasn’t there. She looked out at the swimming pool and spotted him sunk to the bottom. After an hour of trying to perform CPR on the child, he was declared dead at the hospital. She also remembers spotting his favourite toy floating in the pool later that night.
“How can that happen so fast!? How can the child who’d stayed pinned to me in blissful loving amicability all day, telling me every thought and feeling, just wander off like that?” she writes.
Don’t underestimate the power of water. Large bodies of water, like the ocean, lakes and ponds, are unpredictable. Water levels can rise quickly or a current can wash over you. It can generally do a lot of harm if it gets into your respiratory system – through your nose or your mouth.
HOLIDAY WATER SAFETY
Thabiso Sikwane, radio personality and swimming teacher, also had a neardrowning incident, which happened when she was seven years old. She has since been keen to learn, as well as teach others, to swim.
She gives the following advice on water safety:
If you have a pool at home or in the complex, make sure it’s covered. “It’s actually irresponsible to not have it covered. Even if the pool is just there and not in use, drain it but still keep it safe (covered),” she says. Water basins account for a lot of accidents or deaths in younger kids. Make sure your child is never left unattended when you have volumes of water around – whether in a wash basin or bath. Rather ignore the call if your phone rings while you have water near the baby.
When there’s a pool party at home, remember that alcohol and water don’t mix. Alcohol can impair your judgement and senses, posing a danger in case of an emergency. Or even be a cause of accidents. Never use inflatable wings, tubes or other floating aids as a protective measure.
In public pools, beaches or hotels:
By the beach, never let children go near water without an adult supervising – even if there’s a lifeguard on duty.
Make sure your children listen to lifeguard warnings – there’s a reason why they’re there. When you’re by a public or hotel pool, make sure you understand how deep it is beforehand. Ask which is the shallow and deep end. When you are by a river or stream, use a stick to gauge the depth of the river, although it’s now advisable to swim in those areas. Swimming lessons are still seen as a ‘rich people’ activity, and even those who can afford it see it as a ‘grudge purchase’. “Put some money away and save for swimming lessons if you can – it’s that important,” Sikwane says, adding that both you and your child minder should learn how to swim, which can help reduce the risk of children drowning.
* Name changed