Wa­ter safety is cru­cial for kids’ sum­mer ed­u­ca­tion

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

“Congress shall make no law ... abridg­ing the free­dom of speech, or of the press ... . ”

— From the First Amend­ment to Con­sti­tu­tion

Dear Doc­tor: Our sum­mer is fill­ing up with pool and beach ac­tiv­i­ties, and though it’s great that our kids will get ex­er­cise and have fun, I’m also wor­ried. The older boys are de­cent swim­mers, but the youngest, who just turned 4, is still learn­ing. How do we keep them all safe?

Dear Reader: Thank you for bring­ing up an im­por­tant topic. With the hot (and hot­ter) weather and care­free sum­mer vibe, wa­ter safety may not be the first thing on ev­ery­one’s minds. But ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics com­piled by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, drown­ing is the lead­ing cause of ac­ci­den­tal death among chil­dren age 4 and younger. It’s the third-most-com­mon cause of ac­ci­den­tal death among chil­dren and ado­les­cents be­tween the ages of 5 and 19.

It’s great that your older kids can swim and that you’re mak­ing sure your youngest is learn­ing. How­ever, swim­ming skills alone aren’t enough to keep a child safe. As any­one who has spent time around kids at play knows, it’s ba­si­cally chaos. That makes en­sur­ing their safety around open wa­ter a daunt­ing task. But the good news is that the ba­sics of wa­ter safety fall into three manageable cat­e­gories -- bar­ri­ers, surveil­lance and ed­u­ca­tion.

The Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics rec­om­mends -- and some lo­cal and state laws re­quire -- that swim­ming pools be en­closed by a four-sided fence at least 4 feet high, with self-clos­ing and self-lock­ing gates with alarms. When swim time is over, doors fac­ing the pool should re­main locked. Let kids swim only in pools with clear wa­ter with good vis­i­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly near the dan­ger­ous area of the pool drain. At the ocean or a lake, set non-ne­go­tiable bound­aries for where chil­dren can range. This in­cludes not only wa­ter depth, but the width of the play area. That lets you cre­ate a manageable zone to watch them. An adult who can swim should al­ways stay within arm’s length of any child with poor swim skills.

Vig­i­lant surveil­lance is cru­cial. Even in ar­eas with life­guards, a des­ig­nated adult should con­tin­u­ally mon­i­tor kids in the wa­ter. No cell­phones, no chat­ting, no day­dream­ing. As any par­ent whose child has got­ten into trou­ble in the wa­ter can at­test, the un­think­able hap­pens in mere sec­onds. If you’re with other ca­pa­ble adults, break surveil­lance into shifts. When alone, give kids timed swim ses­sions. Reg­u­larly bring them onto dry land for snacks and sun­screen, and ev­ery­one gets a needed rest. Res­tate the phys­i­cal lim­its of their play area each time they re­turn to the wa­ter. If some­one breaks the rules, the penalty is a non-ne­go­tiable re­turn to dry land.

Ed­u­ca­tion in­cludes swim­ming and wa­ter com­pe­tency les­sons, which can be­gin as early as age 1. Learn­ing CPR makes ev­ery­one safer. Stud­ies show that kids as young as 9 can learn and use this vi­tal skill. And learn the signs of drown­ing, which is ac­tu­ally a quiet event. Speech is sec­ondary to breath­ing, and a drown­ing per­son may only have the abil­ity to gasp for breath and try to stay afloat, and thus can’t cry for help. For in­for­ma­tion on wa­ter safety, visit pool­safely.gov.

D . R KOMAROFF

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