Water Safety Starts with Proper Education

By Jennifer Florendo in conjunction with Infant Swimming Resource

Most adults would give themselves a pat on the back for implementing a basic, multi-layer approach to water safety: you have a pool fence, pool alarm, swim vest and responsible supervision at all times, or so you may think. What many may not be aware of are the mixed messages that young children receive while in the pool with that floatation device and responsible adult.

The messaging comes from showing young children that water is fun. From the loud splashing and laughing, the colorful dive toys and pool games, to the floaties and the ambiance, we create a setting of fun. And nothing bad ever happens when we are having fun, right? Wrong.

For a toddler who has no survival skills, the water can be anything but fun. It can claim a life in mere seconds, regardless of how safe and supervised you may think the young children are. Often, adults can be seen standing in the pool, in water deep enough to cover the little one’s head and encouraging them to jump in … after all, this is fun, right? When encouraging the child to jump into the adult’s arms, they are learning that jumping into the pool is fun. What they are not learning is that jumping into the pool without an adult present can be deadly.

At the end of the day, we often remind kids to never jump into a pool without an adult present. However, that message may not be fully understood, and the adult may not be aware that the child is outside and ready to go into the water. The proper tool here is to instruct the young child to never go into a pool without holding onto an adult’s hand.

Let this sink in: Teaching children to jump into a pool without the necessary survival skills is analogous to standing in the middle of a busy street and encouraging the child to run to you. What is stopping the child from doing it again, just without anyone around?

Flotation devices give both parent and child a false sense of security. The device teaches them to maintain a vertical position in the water so that they can breathe. What they are naively learning is that this position is incompatible with safety and survival. Without wearing a floating device, a child will sink in that posture.

Rather than teaching the fun of water first, children should learn proper survival skills and that the water can be a dangerous place. To start, babies as young as 6 months old can learn to roll over and float on their backs. Once children are of walking age, they can learn to swim, roll over onto their backs to breathe and to flip over again to find the edge of the pool.

According to Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), as children grow their safety techniques change. Use this as a rule of thumb: Until the age of 6, schedule a refresher class each time you buy a bigger sized shoe for the child. For more information about ISR swim instruction, please visit infantswim.com.

Drowning is the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, and it can happen in seconds. Please do not wait on swim lessons.

It can happen to you…

Here, we share two real-life stories of parents who have experienced a child drowning. We share similar stories, with different outcomes, and show just how quickly the unthinkable can happen.

Kristyn and Chase’s Story
I turned my back on my son while our 10-year-old was playing in the pool with her friend. He never showed any interest in the pool. We were out there every day and he only liked playing with his toys on the patio. My guard was totally down, until that day. I heard my daughter screaming for me. I ran to her. My son’s lifeless body in her hands.

She said that he fell in the pool. I was thinking he fell and hit his head [on the ground]. The pool did not even cross my mind. He has never gone near it.

It was 30 seconds; that is all it took to almost lose him.

The guilt, what ifs and memories of that day have impacted me more days than not after this accident. Forgiving myself seems impossible.

Chase just turned 3. He finished his survival self-rescue lessons in October of last year and just finished his refresher lesson in February.

I wish there was more awareness out there about drowning prevention. I wish people would not be scared off by the cost of lessons like we were when I first investigated them when he was a few months old.

Kristyn, the daughter of Las Vegas Woman magazine publisher, Stephanie Kocher, is sharing this story to raise awareness of water safety.

Nicole and Levi’s Story
Last April, my husband asked, “What should we do about Levi and swim lessons?” Levi had just turned 3, and, as we talked, he ran around while tormenting his older sisters with a plastic tube turned into a sword. We both said, “He does not seem ready” and decided to wait until Levi turned 4.

Six weeks later, I pulled his lifeless body out of a pool. He will never turn 4.

Please enroll your toddler in the right swim lessons that focus on survival. Not all swim lessons are created equally.

I understand the hesitation around swim lessons. I used to be a typical mom of three kids, forced to weigh every decision on time, finances and my own parenting energy, which all seemed stretched too thin.

Time? Let me tell you about time, about this lifetime without my son, about every bedtime kiss he will miss. You do not want this eternity of time that stretches before me.

Money? Many nonprofits offer scholarships. Exhaust every option; budget and beg. The cost of swim lessons is a fraction of the price of a funeral.

Tears? Your child hates swim lessons, even though the instructor is gentle yet persistent? Well, crying means breathing. On the night my world ended, I only heard silence by the pool. I would have given my life to hear my son crying.

Jonathan and Nicole Hughes lost their son the same day as the daughter of Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan, who tragically drowned in a backyard pool. To learn more about Nicole and Levi’s story and water safety, please visit levislegacy.com.

*These stories have been edited for conciseness.