With the return of the sunny season comes the renewed need for water safety reminders. And if your kiddos are divining rods for water like mine, they’ll find the nearest stream, lake or pool and make a speedy beeline.
But as you stock up on sunscreen and matching family swimsuits for your summer plans, whether that’s time at the beach, morning stream adventures with the babysitter, a week at summer camp or an afternoon at the pool at grandma’s house, taking some time to remind your kids and your kids’ caregivers about water safety can go a long way in preventing an unwanted accident.
It’s distressing but true: Drowning remains the number one cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 1 to 4, taking the lives of three children in the United States every day.
Jenny McCuiston, a mother of four, Olympic swimming trialist, and founder of Goldfish Swim School, shares her top tips for summer water safety.
Water safety tips from the founder of Goldfish Swim School
1. Practice or talk about basic swimming moves with kids before returning to the pool
“One of the best ways to protect your children against drowning is to improve their comfort level in the water and strengthen their swimming capabilities,” says McCuiston. Swim lessons have been proven to reduce the risk of childhood drowning by 88%. But if you don’t have time before vacation to sign up for swim lessons, take a crash course.
“Some schools offer jump start clinics allowing children to perfect their skills in a couple days’ time, McCuiston notes. “Or simply spend time talking through the basics—such as keeping your head above water, knowing how to roll on your back if you feel endangered, properly getting in and out of the pool and going under water.”
2. Swap out floaties and puddle jumpers for U.S. Coastguard-Approved Lifejackets
Don’t rely on floaties and puddle jumpers to keep your kids afloat, notes McCuiston. Those puddle jumpers your well-meaning mother-in-law bought last summer? “They give children a false sense of security in the water, they can easily come loose or deflate, and they teach children to float in a vertical position which is the opposite of how our bodies actually float.”
McCuiston suggests shopping for lifejackets instead, being sure to look for the seal of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) approval. That means the lifejacket has met all the regulations that the USCG has set in place as it relates to performance, construction and materials. Consider keeping a spare at your caregiver's house if your kids will be swimming there regularly.
Make sure to get a proper size and fit, too. “The fit matters, because if your child’s head or ears can slip down beneath the life jacket, the device won’t be able to work as designed to keep your child’s head above water and allow for proper breathing,” she adds.
3. Kids should wear only bright colored swimwear and properly fitted goggles
Research shows that certain swimsuit colors, like neon yellow and orange are more visible under water and make it easier to spot a swimmer in distress. Avoid suits that blend in with the water, like blues and purples.
McCuiston notes that when shopping for goggles, there’s a couple factors to look for: making sure they fit around the eye comfortably (the top of the goggle cup should fit under the eyebrow and comfortably seal on the bottom under the eye socket), that the nose piece is not too tight or too wide and that the straps easily adjust. Ask caregivers to check the fit every time your child enters the pool.
4. Follow the posted rules—and set your own family rules, too
“Sometimes when our little ones are in play-mode, rules fall by the wayside. Review rules together as a family before letting your kids loose to enjoy the water. Pay special attention to pool hours, and always schedule your swims when lifeguards are present, if possible,” says McCuiston. You might also want to discuss some family rules, too, and share these with caregivers, like never entering the water without a parent or guardian present, using the pool ladder instead of jumping in, etc.
Also, talk about a plan to make sure your kids know what to do if someone else is having a water emergency. “Their first instinct may be to go toward the person having trouble in the water. Instead, they should throw or reach a life preserver of sorts—and don’t go! That way, they aren’t putting themselves in jeopardy as well and are truly able to help,” says McCuiston.
5. Designate a water guardian
This is especially important at backyard pools or other bodies of water where no lifeguard is present—but it’s important even if lifeguards are present. Make sure to keep your eyes on your kids at all times when they’re around water—and remind other caregivers to do the same.
“Kids are as curious as they come and are always willing to push the limits without knowing the true hazards. Designate an adult “Water Guardian” and be sure to change guardians every 30 minutes so they are alert and refreshed,” suggests McCuiston. “A Water Guardian’s sole responsibility needs to be keeping an eye on the swimmers. Vigilance is key—no chatting, no checking your phone, no distractions.”
Jenny McCuiston, a mother of four, Olympic swimming trialist, and Founder of Goldfish Swim School, the leading premier learn-to-swim franchise concept that uses the Science of SwimPlay to teach water safety and life skills through play-based learning.