A drowning investigator's plea to parents about water safety goes viral

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[Editor's note: Natalie Livingston has been in the aquatics industry for decades, training lifeguards and investigating aquatic accidents and drowning deaths. She is passionate about preventing the kinds of accidents she investigates, and that is why a Facebook post she wrote is now going viral. The following post was republished with her permission.]

I investigate drownings. I understand the realities of what can happen, often so quickly and quietly. I read a lot about water safety and tips telling parents to pay attention to their children and not be distracted, which is so important. We see so many news articles about drowning during this time of year, but a lot of the advice isn't practical and just highlights the problems, so I decided to write my own list of tips to help.

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Here is a list of 10 random things I do to keep my own kids safe in the water.

1. Give safety briefings

This actually started with a swim lesson procedure of making sure they always asked permission before entering the water. I have expanded it by having a little meeting about expectations. My kids now know to wait (sometimes impatiently continually asking me, "Mom, what do we need to know…can we go yet?!?!?") until I give my briefing.

I outline where they can swim, jump in, how they can jump in and anything else safety-related. A great time to do this is while applying sunscreen. They also know the consequences if they don't follow the safety rules.

These meetings are a way for me to teach my kids respect for the water. They obviously know it is dangerous, knowing what I do for work, but sometimes aquatic centers, water parks, beaches and pools look so fun and enticing that it is easy to forget.

I think as parents we need to be just as concerned with the safety as we are with the fun, but that takes effort. I think some people may not want to ruin the fun by adding in rules, but I know rules create boundaries, which gives freedom in safety.

I also love including my children in the safety briefings. What do they think the rules should be? What do they see as dangerous? They have some amazing insights too and sometimes see things I didn't think of right away!

2. Depths of water vs. height

My kids know depths of water and how to read them on the pool deck, and they know what it means related to their height. My 6-year-old knows that 4 ft of water is over his head, and 3 1/2 ft of water is up to his eyes, which is still over his airway. My 8-year-old daughter knows that 4f t of water is at her eyes and she will need to tread and can't have her airway out at this depth.

This piece of knowledge helps them make good decisions and helps them understand how water depths are different for each person. Their taller friend may have no problem in the 4ft area, while they would need to tread or have trouble touching. Awareness of depth in relation to their body is important. This keeps me away from the, "But mom, Jayden gets to go over there…" Yes, he does, he is also 6" taller than you are, buddy!

3. How to get away

I jumped in last weekend fully clothed with my phone in my hand at my 8-year-old daughter's all-star softball hotel swim session after a tournament. It was instinct—a 5-year-old boy panicked and grabbed onto a 4-year-old girl and they were both struggling. He was holding her down and trying to keep himself above the water. In I went and scooped both of them out.

They were both naturally scared, and a little burping of water/air, but they were fine. We see this all the time in drowning events, swimmers who are okay on their own, have someone grab onto them because they are struggling and they can't get away.

I have taught, and I am still teaching my kids how to get away if someone grabs onto them. My daughter is a great swimmer, but I still don't think she can tread water and keep her and another kid above the waterline. I've taught them to suck, duck, tuck:

  • Suck in air if you can (get a breath)
  • Duck under the water (the struggling person doesn't want to go there)
  • Tuck (use your arms and legs to push away)—and then yell for an adult immediately to help the other person

I've also taught them to be very careful of who they touch/grab onto in a pool. Even adults can be weaker swimmers and may have a hard time with them hanging on. Personal space is key.

4. Distraction reminders

I ask my kids to keep me accountable. They know either myself or my husband should be watching them at all times. We have told them that if we aren't watching them, they need to get our attention and help us because as humans we get distracted naturally.

I try to stay involved in their activity and also tried to keep my phone away, but I was still distracted with other kids, food, talking, you name it…life is full of distractions. I changed my tactic and downloaded a reminder app, and I set reminders for every minute.

I turn my phone into airplane mode and then use the app. Every minute it alerts me and I have the notification say "Kids Breathing" so I confirm my kids are okay and then clear the notification. Obviously, my goal is constant supervision, but sometimes my brain starts to wander to something I am thinking about and the notification checks me back in.

There are tons of campaigns about designating a "water watcher" with a specific tag indicating you have the responsibility of watching the water. I think these are great tools, and we also need to make sure the water watcher is not distracted.

Alerts can keep you focused as long as you stay off your phone for all other purposes. I put my phone in airplane mode, but you can still have the tendency to look at. Be aware of your distractions both internal and external. If the phone is a distraction all together, maybe alerts aren't for you. Find what works to keep you focused and stick with it for the entire swim time.

5. Designate breaks

We swim for a designated time, usually 30 minutes, but it varies depending on where we are and the activity taking place. Regardless, we always have breaks. I need these breaks more than my kids. They would swim endlessly for hours if I let them, but they need to rest and so do I.

As a lifeguard, we would rotate every 20-30 minutes with the premise being to give our minds a break and so we could stay fresh. The same thing applies to parental supervision. I need to use the restroom, I need to do other things, I need a break too! So, we give time warnings and take swim breaks. Sometimes the breaks are also unscheduled, if I have to make an emergency restroom visit or answer the door, everyone gets out, every time.

6. Limited trust

This may sound harsh, but I don't trust other people to watch my kids in the pool. It is me or my husband, that is it. If they are swimming at Grandma's they have to wear a lifejacket. If they are going in the water at the beach on a board with their cousin, they have to wear a lifejacket.

I see so many events where trust was placed in another person, watch my kids while I go do XYZ, or grandpa took them to the pool, or a neighbor invited them over. I may love these people, and they may love my children, but I don't trust them, nor do I want them to have to own that responsibility if something were to happen to one of my kids in their care. It just isn't worth it.

Do my kids whine, yep. Do I care? Nope! They know the other option is they just don't go. Same goes for school pool parties and camps with water activities, it just isn't worth it for me. Same goes for lifeguarded swimming areas. I know I am my kids' primary source of supervision and the lifeguard(s) are there for back up and emergencies.

I do not rely on them for basic supervision. I only have two children and I can supervise them much more closely than a lifeguard who has divided attention between 25 or more people.

7. Life jackets are cool

Culturally we seem to have a negative attitude towards life jackets. I don't think there is anything wrong with life jackets, in fact, there are so many games and activities you can do with them. We just need to make them cool again.

If there are a bunch of kids I'm watching, I'd rather have everyone be in a life jacket. It can be a cousin life jacket pool party. Having everyone in one makes it much "cooler" and doesn't embarrass the littler kids or weaker swimmers. When I ran camps, even the counselors would wear them, be cool like them!

Having rolling log challenges in the life jackets, water balloon tossing contests, have relays to pass rings from your toes..the games are endless, and the safety is higher with everyone in a life jacket. Now there are times that my kids will even say they would rather just be in a life jacket. Awesome.

**Just an added side note that when referring to "life jacket" I am referring to a USCG approved life jacket (check the inside of the jacket or vest). Noodles, Inflatables, baby circles, tubes, and all other items are not safety-related and should not be used or trusted to keep your child safe.

We see countless videos of kids who flip over in an inflatable ring and can't right themselves and are stuck underwater upside down, or are in arm floaties and can't get their head out of the water because their arms aren't strong enough, or who lose purchase of a kickboard they were holding onto for floatation. Even in a lifejacket, you need to diligently and constantly supervise as children can get in positions that can still obstruct their airway especially if they are younger or weaker.

8. Educate

My kids know what drowning can look like. They know water is dangerous. They know good swimmers can drown. They know medical events can happen without warning. They know that drowning can happen quickly.

I talk about how events happen, about what their weaknesses are. They know they can't breathe in the water, they know why we take breaks from swimming, they know why they enter the water feet first, they know why we don't play breath-holding games or activities. It isn't just because I said so, I try to give them real reasons to my rules. A healthy fear of the water is a good thing.

9. "Hey, watch this…"

Phrases like "Hey, watch this…" usually are the beginning of something dangerous or a little crazy about to take place. This is a kid's way of announcing they are pushing the boundaries or are going to show-off, and I take these phrases as a time to talk about danger and pushing boundaries.

Are they just showing me something or are they about to do something risky? There is a difference and I try to talk about good decisions around the water. Phrases like "Hey, watch this…" are ways to cue into other people's behaviors and intentions. They now alert me when others use these types of phrases too. I always say we can have fun without being dumb.

10. See something, say something

My kids are part of my safety team. They are buddy watchers for each other and I ask them to look out for other kids. I'll often ask my son where his sister is, or what the other person is doing. I want to train them to look at others and make sure they are okay, to know what they are doing.

My daughter the other day said, "Mom, I almost called you…that boy was under the water and I counted from 5…5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but he popped up again before I got to 2." I asked her, what would you do if he was still underwater when you got to one, and she said "I'd say something to you or an adult until you responded". Perfect.

Kids are an additional layer of protection and they have good instincts. My kids know not to assume someone is playing. If they see someone underwater, they start counting. So often, in drowning investigations we see kids (and adults) swimming over or around someone who is underwater and they don't do anything.

They assume they are okay, they assume they are playing, they assume they are doing it on purpose. Don't assume. Teach them the 5-second rule (check out Mel Robbins book on the topic) and if they see something to say something.

Other Water Safety Tips:

I hope this helps and gives you some practical tips to improving safety during your water related activities. Share this information to hopefully prevent any more drownings. Stay safe and vigilant!

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It was a historical moment for the world and a scary moment for a woman who had just become a mother for the first time. When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital on July 22, 2013, with her new baby in her arms she was happy—but understandably scared, too.

Kate Middleton recently appeared on Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast and when Fletcher asked her about her postpartum debut Kate said she felt a little freaked out when she stepped out with her newborn.

"Yeah, slightly terrifying, slightly terrifying, I'm not going to lie," Kate said.

During the podcast the Duchess opened up about her pregnancy and birth experiences, explaining how much hypnobirthing helped her and that she didn't know whether she was delivering a prince or princess until Prince George was born as she'd opted to be surprised.

She was surprised and thrilled when she met her son, and looked forward to post-pregnancy life after spending her pregnancy quite ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (a seriously debilitating form of extreme morning sickness). She was happy, but was also (very understandably) overwhelmed. In addition to all the pressure new moms feel, Kate had an army of photographers waiting outside the hospital for her.

"Everything goes in a bit of a blur. I think, yeah I did stay in hospital overnight, I remember it was one of the hottest days and night with huge thunderstorms so I didn't get a huge amount of sleep, but George did, which was really great," she explained. "I was keen to get home because, for me, being in hospital, I had all the memories of being in hospital because of being sick [with acute morning sickness] so it wasn't a place I wanted to hang around in. So, I was really desperate to get home and get back to normality."

Kate wanted to get home, but she also did want to share her baby boy with the public who had been so supportive of her young family, she explains.

"Everyone had been so supportive and both William and I were really conscious that this was something that everyone was excited about and you know we're hugely grateful for the support that the public had shown us, and actually for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important," she shared, adding that "Equally it was coupled with a newborn baby, and inexperienced parents, and the uncertainty of what that held, so there were all sorts of mixed emotions."

"All sorts of mixed emotions."

The now-iconic images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exiting the hospital with their firstborn have gone down in history, but so has Kate's bravery that day.

There's been a lot written about whether those pictures put pressure on other moms who might not feel ready for heels and blowouts right after giving birth, but one thing critics of the photos often miss is the positive impact it had on other young women.

Yes, Kate looked beautiful, but she also looked like a woman whose body had just given birth—and the iconic images of her in that polka-dot dress taught a generation of women that the female body isn't an elastic band and that recovering from birth takes time.

"I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George," Tina, now a mom herself and a model of postpartum realness in Mothercare's "Body Proud Mums campaign" explained last year.

Tina recalls how Kate's postpartum appearance showed her a reality society hadn't: "She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn't just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations."

Tina wasn't stupid, she just hadn't been shown the truth.

So thank you, Kate, for stepping out of that hospital in 2013, despite being terrified, and showing the world your beautiful baby and your bump.


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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

If you've been following the Democratic candidates online you've likely noticed that Amy Klobuchar's 24-year-old daughter, Abigail Klobuchar Bessler, frequently appears in her mother's social media and at campaign events. In fact, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty recently declared "Amy Klobuchar's daughter wins Iowans for her mother, one hotdish at a time."

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It is fitting that Abigail is one of Klobuchar's biggest supporters and her most popular surrogate, as her birth is the reason why her mom entered politics in the first place. Klobuchar was wheeled out of the hospital, without her baby, 24 hours after giving birth and decided to fight to save other mothers from the same fate.

Back in 1995, Abigail was born without the ability to swallow, and as The Washington Post's Marc Fisher reports, Klobuchar was soon discharged and forced to leave her baby behind. Klobuchar and her husband checked into a nearby hotel so that they could return to the hospital every three hours to pump breastmilk for Abigail.

Klobuchar wore her hospital gown for three days, going back and forth from the hospital to the hotel. Her experience sounds extreme in the age of family centered care, but it was pretty normal at the time. Back in the mid-90s rapid postpartum discharge was a common occurrence in American hospitals, as insurance companies aimed to keep costs down by getting moms out of the hospitals ASAP.

"I saw it as injustice for moms. I thought if men had babies, this would never happen. It was one of those one-size-fits-all policies that just didn't allow for any humanity. You've been up for 48 hours, you're a brand-new mom and you have no idea what you're doing, and they kick you out. You don't know if your child's going to live," Klobuchar said, decades later.

She wasn't a politician yet, but she was a lawyer and a new mom determined to change things, so, as she told Lisa DePaulo for Elle back in 2010, Klobuchar gathered up "six of her 'closest pregnant friends'" and successfully lobbied for Minnesota to guarantee new moms a 48-hour hospital stay.

"When some lobbyists wanted to delay the time until the bill took effect," Klobuchar recalled, they had to ask when it should take effect. "All my pregnant friends raised their hands and said, `Now," she said.

It worked, and the mom who was wheeled out of the hospital too soon became a mom on the road to political success.

In 2006 Klobuchar became the first woman elected as senator in Minnesota's history. In 2020 she hopes to be the first woman elected as President. She placed third in the New Hampshire primary this week, prompting pundits to declare her a "serious candidate."

Abigail Klobuchar Bessler says her mom has always been serious about fighting for families, and the 24-year-old is so serious about supporting her mom that she's using up all her PTO from her job in New York City Council's office to do it, telling TIME: "Who better to talk about my mom than someone who's known her her whole life?"

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Gabrielle Union + Dwyane Wade have been blended family goals, an inspiration to those struggling with infertility and now they are an inspiration to parents of trans kids and supporters of trans rights.

This week Wade appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and spoke about his 12-year-old daughter Zaya coming out as transgender and Union posted a beautiful video + caption to Instagram, inviting fans to "meet Zaya."

In the video Zaya is riding in a golf cart with her dad and dropping wisdom. She says: "Just be true to yourself, because what's the point of even living on this earth if you're going to try to be someone you're not?...Be true and don't really care what the 'stereotypical' way of being you is."

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Union was so impressed by her step-daughter, captioning the video: "She's compassionate, loving, whip smart and we are so proud of her. It's Ok to listen to, love & respect your children exactly as they are. Love and light good people."

Later in the week Union addressed criticism of Zaya's transition on Twitter, writing: "This has been a journey. We're still humbly learning but we decided quickly w/ our family that we wouldn't be led by fear. We refuse to sacrifice the freedom to live authentically becuz we are afraid of what ppl might say. U have the ability to learn & evolve."

Zaya's big brother is also on her side. Newly 18-year-old Zaire posted the cutest throwback pic from when he and Zaya were just little kids, noting how the siblings were and are best friends.

"Man, I remember bugging my mom as a kid telling her I wanted a brother so bad. I was the only child looking for company and someone to look after and take care of," Zaire began his caption. "I have been blessed to have my best friend, Zaya with me for 12 years. We did everything together … we fought, we played, we laughed and we cried. But the one thing we never did was leave each other behind."

Zaire continued: "I've told you that I would lay my life down to make sure you are ten toes down and happy on this earth," he told his younger sibling. "I don't care what they think Z, you are my best friend and I love you kid, and if it means anything, just know there's no love lost on this side ✊🏾"

We are so impressed and inspired by the love Zaya's family is showing her (and other kids by sharing this story publicly). You've got this Zaya!

News

The Duchess of Cambridge is opening up about the meditative method that helped her deliver all three of her children and helped her cope with pregnancies made challenging by hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a seriously debilitating form of pregnancy nausea and vomiting.

The former Kate Middleton says she relied on hypnobirth, which is routinely used at the hospital where she delivered. In a new interview on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast with Giovanna Fletcher, Kate explained, "I saw the power of it really, the meditation and the deep breathing and things like that—that they teach you in hypnobirthing—when I was really sick and actually I realized that this was something I could take control of, I suppose, during labor," she said.

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The Duchess explained: "It was through hyperemesis that I really realized the power of the mind over the body because I really had to try everything to try and help me through it."

So what is hypnobirthing?

Well, it's not the party trick hypnosis commonly portrayed in pop culture. It's more of a form of meditation proven to help mothers relax during childbirth. It involves visualization, breathing techniques, guided meditation and sometimes massage.

It can be used during vaginal births and C-sections (and, as Kate proves, even when you're not giving birth but dealing with other challenges). Research indicates hypnobirth may make labor faster and reduce the risk of C-section, and that it can reduce a mom's fear and anxiety. Classes on hypnobirthing are available in most major cities (many experts recommend taking them when you're around 25 to 30 weeks), and several companies offer online courses as well.

Colleen Temple shares her experience. "Pre-hypnobirthing, I would literally cry on the spot when I thought about going into labor. Post-hypnobirthing? I felt empowered, strong, prepared and very ready to birth my baby. It transformed my mindset completely," she previously wrote for Motherly.

"With the help of the meditations and affirmations used in hypnobirthing, the fear of the unknown that I had before the course started shifted into the ability to truly trust that my body and my baby were going to do exactly what they needed to do to bring my little one safely into this world," shares Temple.

The mind can be a powerful thing, and Temple and the Duchess have plenty of company on team hypnobirth. Mogul mama Jessica Alba is also a fan. She told Ellen it's not weird, and is something women can involve their partners in. "My husband takes me through sort of a meditation. He'll say, 'you're relaxed, and you're floating on clouds while you're going through labor and your contractions. I'm just concentrating on breathing and staying relaxed," she explained.

The Duke of Cambridge wasn't quite as into it as Alba's husband, but that's because it was more of Kate's thing. "I'm not going to say that William was standing there sort of, chanting sweet nothings at me. He definitely wasn't! I didn't even ask him about it, but it was just something I wanted to do for myself," she said on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast.

Every mama should have things she wants to do for herself, and pregnant or not, meditation can be a great form of self-care.

[A version of this post was previously published April 26, 2018. It has been updated.]





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