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Parents, When Does Your Child Really Need A Life Jacket?

Wearing-a-life-jacketWhen you think of a life jacket, that sturdy vest that keeps you afloat, you probably think of large boats.  While it is true that you should ALWAYS wear a life jacket when you are on a boat, a life jacket has far more uses for keeping you and your children safer around water.  Today we are going to talk about when to wear a lifejacket, what constitutes a real life jacket, and how to convince the (usually male) disbelievers to wear a lifejacket.

Let’s start with the obvious, wearing a life jacket on a boat, because too many people still leave the life jacket sitting next to them ‘in case I need it’.  70% of boating fatalities result from drowning, and 85% of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket.  It doesn’t matter if you have a little Sunfish sailboat for tooling around a small lake, a ski boat, a fishing boat, or a 90 foot ocean-going Oyster, if you end up in the water unexpectedly because you trip, are hit by the boom, get knocked by a wave, are dizzy from sunstroke, or any other unexpected accident, your odds of drowning are really high.  Even if you see the person go in, think for a minute how hard it is to see a wet head in the water if they aren’t also wearing a life jacket, much less how difficult it is to retrieve the person when they are shocked, cold, and maybe injured.  Even if you can get back to them and haul them onboard in a matter of minutes, they may already have started the process of drowning. My mom rule is that if you are above deck, you have a life jacket on, even docked or at anchor.  And if it’s rough weather, it stays on, period.  The new life jackets are light and comfortable, it’s not a hardship.  Granted, if you are on one of those huge passenger ferries or a cruise ship, no one expect you to parade around all day in a lifejacket, but do know where they are kept and if you have a child, know where the child-sized jackets are stored.  For your own recreational boating, click here  to learn about Coast Guard approved lifejackets, the only type of lifejacket you should ever trust with your child’s life, and your own life.  If you are traveling, call ahead and ask, many places have life jacket loaner programs, so you don’t necessarily have to invest yourself.

What most parents don’t think about is when lifejackets should be used off of boats.  If you have an inexperienced or weak swimmer, a very young child, or anyone with physical or mental limitations, have them wear a life jacket whenever they are near water.  If you are in a pool and at arm’s length, it isn’t necessary, but for a day at the beach or the lake, at one of those fabulous big resort pools, or even if you just have more than one child to watch, a life jacket adds a layer of safety and peace of mind.  It is almost impossible for anyone, even vigilant lifeguards, to see beneath the surface of rough water, so better to keep the head above water in the first place.  Children forget they can’t swim, they jump in or walk until they are over their heads, or just get tired, and next thing you know, they are bobbing just beneath the surface.

You may be thinking, I’m covered, I picked up a great floatation suit at the store, or always have those inflatable arm bands in our bag.  First anything inflatable.  If it inflates, it deflates.  Those inflatable arm bands are still sold everywhere, because the water safety field hasn’t gotten the message out there, but if you have some, do me a favor, pick up the scissors and drive a hole right through them before you put them in the garbage.  Not only can they deflate, especially at a beach or in rough water, but they really limit a child’s arm motion if they are trying to swim.  I’m all in favor of having fun in the water, and inflatable rafts and rings and toys can be great fun, but they are for fun, not for safety.  Inflatable arm bands aren’t even for fun.  If you have a question about any floatation suit or vest you have, see if there is a label saying it is Coast Guard approved.  Or go directly to the Coast Guard website to learn more. A true life jacket can turn an unconscious person onto their back so their face is not in the water.

There is the gray area of a child who is over-confident in the water but doesn’t have solid swimming skills, or has the skills but not the confidence.  For this child, you really want them in the water practicing their skills, under your supervision, but a life jacket may be too restrictive.  My go-to is still the SwimFin. It’s a shark-shaped fin that straps securely around a child’s middle.  A UK-product, it has passed the European Union flotation regulations, except that it is still not a life jacket, because it won’t keep someone on their back if they are unconscious.  I would never use SwimFin in the ocean or any other open water that has a current, a tide, or waves, but for a pool when you want to play more safely, it is absolutely brilliant.  It changed one of our vacations from my daughter saying ‘I’m bored, I want to go back to the room’ to my having to beg to get her out of the pool at the end of the day.  I still kept an eagle eye on her, but it gave her the freedom to practice her strokes and jumps.  Her swimming skills and confidence improved exponentially and appropriately on that trip.  Major bonus, all the kids at the pool wanted to wear one because it looks so cool.

Finally, how to you convince the ‘I’m too cool to wear a life jacket’ members of your family (statistically the males).  For them, I have two videos to recommend.  Both tried and tested within my family.  For the younger males, have them watch this ‘Heroes Wear Life Jackets’ video that features Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers.  My son said he was definitely more likely to wear a life jacket after watching – because it makes life jackets cool.

For the older males, here is an award-winning interactive video that simulates what happens when you are knocked into the water.  You have to keep scrolling to stay alive.  I admit I couldn’t watch for long, but the guys I work with said it got pretty graphic and frightening.  But, it did convince one of the most recalcitrant non-jacket-wearing avid boaters I know to start wearing a life jacket.  I didn’t push or nag, just forwarded the link in an email and said, ‘thought you might find this interesting’.  Sometimes all it takes to change behavior is a slight nudge in the right direction and someone else explaining why they need to change.

For Every Day Spent Saving Kids From Drowning…I Am Thankful

Thank you words drawn in sandThanksgiving is around the corner, a time to focus on all that you are grateful for in your life.  We’d be here a very long time if I were to list everything in my life that I am blessed with, so today I’ll just focus on one thing.  My work.  I have, absolutely, hands-down, the best job on the planet.  If I do my job well, children stop dying, and every day I work with the coolest people around.  Really, it doesn’t get any better.  I am very grateful.

The great thing about working in the water safety field is that water makes people passionate.  Being in and around water brings enormous joy, though sometimes water can be associated with the most intense sorrow of losing a loved one too early, especially a child.  All of us who work in water safety understand the deep healing powers of water, and respect it’s power.  There is commitment, enormous joy, and a sense of hope that inspires me every day.

Today, rather than talk about what you can do to keep your child safer around water, I’d like to recognize just a few of the people and organizations who are working tirelessly to make your child safer every day.  I work with people all over the world, and I can’t recognize them all here, but I’d like to give you some small idea of the range of people who want you to be happy, and safe.  It’s an awesome community and it is a true honor and a privilege to work with these people.

Matt and Chris Hales, two teenagers from California who realized that some of the kids most at risk for drowning can’t afford the basic equipment you need to learn to swim.  They formed Goggles for Guppies which provides swimsuits, swim caps, and goggles to children in need.  Thank you for reminding us, again, that kids can change the world positively.

Christina Fonfe of the Sri Lanka Women’s Swimming Project, who heard about the 2004 tsunami, realized that 80% of the victims were women and children, and got on a plane just days later with the goal of teaching women how to swim.  She has changed women’s lives, and their children’s lives, in unimaginable ways by giving them skills to live that also bring economic empowerment and respect in their community.  Thank you for looking through the obvious tragedy and finding a way to avert future tragedy and enhance women and children’s lives.

The great guys (and Raquel) at ISLA, Nile Swimmers and Lifeguards Without Borders for understanding that a well-trained lifeguard on duty at the beach is the best insurance against drowning.  These organizations go to the countries with big drowning problems and virtually no lifeguards, to train lifeguards, which increases safety, raises awareness, and provides people with a source of employment and respect.  Thank you for showing us how collaboration and leveraging social media can bring the entire world together.

Moses Kalanzi in Uganda, and the many people around the world like him.  Often there are literally just a handful of people in each country who are working to make people aware that drowning is a leading cause of death and that drowning can be prevented.  Working with virtually no resources and even less understanding by the public of why they should care about water safety, Moses, and so many like him, are reaching out across countries and working tirelessly for change.  Moses has been instrumental in bringing together major stakeholders in Uganda as well as international collaborators in the water safety field, in the first ever meeting to talk about water safety in Uganda, this month.  Thank you for showing us that one determined person can change a country, and the world.

Michael and Jo-Ann Morris of the Samuel Morris Foundation who decided that their personal tragedy should never happen to another parent.  Their son, Samuel, died this year, 8 years after a non-fatal drowning accident at age two that left him severely mentally and physically disabled.  The Morris’ cared for their son tirelessly while also becoming outspoken advocates for water safety in Australia and beyond, and a voice for the thousands of parents who are caring for children who didn’t die from drowning, but became permanently disabled.  Thank you for showing us that a parent’s love and devotion truly knows no boundaries and being relentless in your pursuit of changes in attitudes and behavior.

Princess Charlene of Monaco, our true fairy princess.  Princess Charlene could justifiably rest on her laurels as that great triple threat:  an Olympic swimmer; a Princess; and a Head of State.  Instead, she chose to lend her considerable talent and determination to ending an epidemic that few have even heard of, drowning.  The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation has been in existence just over a year, but has already made a huge impact around the world funding programs and raising awareness.  To the Princess and her amazing team at the Foundation, thank you for being willing to take the hard road and help us raise the profile of the global drowning epidemic, and to provide funding for so many of the incredible programs that were struggling without your help.

Please join me in saying thank you to all of these people, and to the people in your own community that are working to make you and your children safer.  The swimming instructors, the lifeguards, the guy who installed your pool fence, the nurse at the hospital who told you never to leave your baby alone in the bathtub.  They all share the same passion and commitment, to making sure that your family stays safe.  So, please, take a minute to feel gratitude, send them a shout-out on social media or in your community, or donate to an organization that moves you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Who is The REAL Lifeguard at Your Kid’s Pool This Summer??

Editor’s Note: It is a very common belief that lifeguards are the first line of drowning defense for children. But parents really own this job. This post from Rebecca Wear Robinson, first published in April, 2013, explains why. In honor of our 5 Year Bloggiversary, we are publishing 5 of our favorite posts – one from each year since the day we started. This is our fourth “look back” post.  We are proud to have Rebecca as a member of our PedSafe Expert Team, and hope you enjoy the opportunity to read or revisit this important post.


View of pool through flotation tubeI was doing the usual mom chit-chat at Scouts while my son worked towards his water safety badge and fielded the inevitable question from the Scout leader, ‘what do you do?’. My answer, “I’m a global activist working to end child drowning. One child drowns every minute.” And then came the typical response, “Wow, I didn’t know it was such an issue, but it is certainly needed, the lifeguards need to do a much better job.” She then related a story about how she and her husband were at a pool with their baby and 3-year old son. She was sitting at the side holding the baby, her husband was in another area, and the 3-year old suddenly went past his depth and was bobbing up and down under the water, drowning. She screamed for the lifeguard, her husband screamed for the lifeguard but also managed to get to their son before any serious injury occurred. She related the story in harrowing detail and emphasized several times how the lifeguard had clearly not been doing his job well since her son had almost drowned in a crowded pool, so she understood why drowning is such a problem.

What is your initial reaction? Quite possibly the same as hers, the fault was with the lifeguard. If he had been paying attention her son never would have almost drowned. It’s an incredibly common belief, but the reality is quite different. These are excellent, diligent and concerned parents, and they believe, just as most people believe, that if you go to a pool or beach with a lifeguard on duty, you and your children will be safe. Yes, that’s true, if you swim in an area with a lifeguard, your chance of drowning is reduced to 1 in 18 million. Those are very good odds, even better when you consider that 75% of open water drownings occur when a lifeguard is not present. There are no two ways about it: if you swim in an area with a lifeguard, you are much safer, but it’s not just the lifeguard’s job to keep you safe. I do place the blame for that misconception squarely on the shoulders of those of us in the drowning prevention field. We haven’t explained what the true role of a lifeguard is, so let me start now to change how we view lifeguards.

When it comes to water and children, especially young children or non-swimmers, you, the parent, are the first lifeguard on duty. You need to be touch distance from your young or non-swimmer, meaning you can reach out and grab them at any time. Why?

First, a child can drown in 2 minutes in 2 inches of water. Even the best lifeguard, diligently scanning a crowded pool can miss seeing a small child under water, especially if the sun is glinting off the water or there are many people in the pool obscuring visibility under the surface. Plus, most people don’t even recognize someone is drowning since it’s not like in the movies. There is no flailing of arms or screaming. Click here to see what it really looks like – and don’t worry, the boy is rescued.

Second, you don’t want your child to be in a situation where they need to be rescued. You know how hard it can be to spot a small child in a crowded place. Even the fastest lifeguard will take precious seconds to spot the danger and make their way to the victim, and that can be a really frightening few seconds for a child.

Lifeguards are like police and firemen. Their job is to prevent accidents by watching for dangerous behavior and educating the public, and to perform rescues when things do go wrong….but it’s not their job to babysit or watch just one child, much less the 100 children in the water on a busy summer afternoon. Think about it, you don’t let your 3-year old walk 3 blocks to preschool just because your town has police whose job is to keep people safe, do you? The good news is that having a lifeguard on duty is like having a firefighter stand in your front yard just in case a fire breaks out. 95% of a lifeguard’s job is preventing an accident in the first place and only 5% is actually rescuing someone in distress. With you on guard, hopefully it won’t ever be your child in distress.

Now that you’re thinking, ‘great, so much for relaxing at the pool this summer’, I have some very good news. Taking a baby or young child to the pool is better than having a personal trainer and Weight Watchers combined, if you take advantage of the time in the pool with them. Trust me, I worked off two pregnancies swirling my children around in the water. I hope you’ll also check out my tried-and-true ‘fun for kids, great easy workout for mom’ plan!

Drowning: What Every Parent NEEDS to Know!

The news has been full of stories of secondary drowning lately.  I’ve had a number of parents ask me about secondary drowning, and finally was asked the big question, ‘so what is drowning?’

Boy on slide in water parkToday I’m going to talk about what drowning really means, how to recognize if someone is drowning, and I’m going to explain why drowning is one of the most preventable causes of death and injury and what you can do to keep your child safer around water for their entire life.  It’s a long article, but probably the most important article I’ve written on the subject, so please stick with me.

There are a number of terms out there for drowning, including: secondary drowning; dry drowning; near drowning.  The number of terms is misleading and has even led to confusion amongst medical professionals, but officially* there is only one term that should be used and only one term you need to know – drowning.

Drowning is a process.  One outcome of the process of drowning is death, but during the approximately 10 minutes it takes for someone to die from drowning, the brain is being deprived of oxygen and permanent damage can occur.  Brain damage starts to occur within 5 minutes of the brain not receiving oxygen.

Contrary to common opinion, the most severe complications or death from drowning are not caused by water filling the lungs. The biggest problem in drowning is oxygen not getting to the brain.

Think of it this way – being under water is the same as being in outer space.  If you can’t breathe oxygen, you will die.

The process of drowning is serious and should be taken seriously by parents, lifeguards, and communities. In minor drowning cases, even just small amounts (less than a tablespoon) of water getting into the lungs can cause problems. If someone has had their mouth or nose covered by water, either being under water or just having water forced into the mouth, like on a water slide,  and they are now having trouble breathing, they should go to the emergency department. Most of these patients are going to survive and be fine. Many of us have had the experience of “choking” or “gagging” on water that goes down the wrong pipe while drinking something. These protective reflexes are the same as what we see in someone who is drowning.

If the coughing or choking or gagging on water is present more than a couple minutes after your child exits the water, they should be taken to the emergency department. If your child is choking, has foam coming out of their mouth or ANY difficulty breathing up to 3 hours after exiting the water, they should be taken to the emergency department immediately.  And remember, when you go to the emergency department, make sure you tell the doctor that your child’s breathing trouble started after they were in or around water, because even a small amount of water can be the  trigger for the breathing problem and is an indication of drowning.

IMPORTANT:  If a child’s (or adult’s) mouth or nose was covered in water and they are having trouble breathing or are coughing for more than a few minutes, you need to get them to the emergency department immediately, because they are drowning.

There are two primary ways to recognize if someone is drowning. 

  • The first is continuous coughing, foam at the mouth, or any difficulty breathing if the mouth or nose was covered by water at any point.  This sign of drowning occurs when the face is no longer in the water.
  • When someone is still in the water, the most immediate way of recognizing they are drowning is that they may look like they are climbing a ladder. Their head is just below the surface, they are vertical in the water, they are probably looking upright and their arms may be moving as if they are climbing a ladder.  It is silent.  No yelling. If someone is yelling for help, they may be out of their depth and you should call a lifeguard for help, but it’s the silent ones who are in the most trouble and need immediate aid.  (see: Parents…Do You Know What Drowning Looks Like?? )  If someone is pulled from the water in this situation, always get them to the emergency department immediately.

What about the children who do not die of drowning immediately?

First the good news – if your child is having trouble breathing and you take them to the emergency department, especially within the first 2-3 hours, one large study shows that only only 20% of those children needed additional hospitalization and the death rate of those children was only 1:200,000.  If you act fast and get medical help as soon as possible, there is a good chance your child will recover completely.

little girl and nurse in ambulance.finalNow the scary news – According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), for every child that dies from drowning, another five need emergency medical care and 50% of those children need additional care.  Many suffer some degree of permanent brain damage, like Samuel Morris. Brain damage can occur after only five minutes without oxygen.  Again, drowning is very serious, so if your child was in or around water and is having trouble breathing, get them to the emergency department immediately and make sure you tell the hospital staff that the breathing difficulty started after your child was in or around water.

The best news I have is that drowning is almost always preventable.  Teaching water safety and swimming can be lifetime vaccines against drowning.

The most important things you can do in the short-term are:

  • Learn basic water safety – how to act safely around water and how to recognize dangers;
  • Be aware of the dangers;
  • Watch your child whenever they are around water, if they are young or not strong swimmers, be in the water with them within arm’s reach, and never leave them alone in the bath.  You are your child’s primary lifeguard.;
  • Install an approved pool fence
  • Empty buckets, decorative ponds and wading pools when they aren’t in use;
  • Never rely on inflatable devices to keep your child safe; and
  • Learn CPR.  Not hands-only CPR to the Staying Alive song, but child CPR, because every child and every drowning victim needs oxygen, and only traditional breathing-and-compression CPR will deliver the necessary oxygen.

To provide your child with lifelong protection from drowning:

  • Start teaching your child about water safety from the time they are babies, and don’t stop talking about water safety until they are grown;
  • Teach your children to swim from a very early age.  The American Red Cross starts infants (and their parents) in parent-and-me classes at 6 months.  A number of organizations provide swimming lessons at no or reduced cost, so don’t let economics keep you from protecting your child; and
  • Don’t avoid being near water with your child or teach your child to be afraid water.  Fear leads to panic, which can lead to poor decisions or walking into danger unknowingly.  Knowledge leads to respect and safe actions.  Knowledge is power.  Empower your child to make the right decisions around water.

Thanks for sticking with me to the end.  Now, I have one favor.  Please share this information.  If you learned even one new thing in this article, share the link on your social media or with your friends and relatives.  Ask your local newspaper or TV station to spread the word.  Drowning is greatly misunderstood and is still a hidden global epidemic, but if we all work together to spread accurate information, we can make all of our children safer.  It takes a village.


* Since 2005, it was agreed upon by all major agencies, including the World Health Organization, American Red Cross, American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, that there is only one term that should be used, drowning.  Again, drowning is a process.  One possible outcome of drowning is ‘fatal drowning’ or death, which can happen in as little as 10 minutes.  Another possible outcome of drowning is referred to as ‘non-fatal drowning’, and can encompass the full range of injury from mild and temporary complications to severe and permanent brain damage.  This brain damage can begin in as little as 5 minutes.  The last possible outcome from the process of drowning is, unofficially, ‘no lasting damage’, which is the best possible outcome and more likely if you know the signs and take basic precautions.

Many thanks to:

  • Dr. Justin Sempsrott who provided invaluable expertise and assistance for today’s article.  Dr. Sempsrott is the Executive Director of Lifeguards Without Borders,  Medical Director of Starfish Aquatics Institute, and is a Clinical Instructor in Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest University.
  • Dr. Linda Quan, Seattle Children’s Hospital for reviewing and validating the facts included in this article. Dr. Quan is a Member of Aquatics Subcouncil and Vice-Chair of Scientific Advisory Council of the American Red Cross

Teens and the Cold Water Challenge: Parents Beware!

Cold Water Challenge is the latest fund-raising fad.  Around the U.S. people are being challenged to jump in cold water to raise money for cancer charities.

The problem?

#ColdWaterChallenge can kill you!

I’m all in favor of engaging people to raise money for charities and of bonding communities together over causes that touch so many of our lives, but jumping into cold water is just plain dangerous.

Penguins dive into ice cold waterWe’ve all experienced it, the exhilarating and invigorating feeling when you plunge into cold water, even if it’s just a splash of cold water on your face on a blistering hot day.  It makes you feel vitally alive.  The problem is your brain and your body are thinking you are in danger of becoming quite the opposite – dead from extreme trauma.

The first reaction, that you may interpret as exhilaration, the racing heart and gasping breath, is actually self-preservation.  Your body will consider any water temperature below 70F to be ‘cold’.  If you can’t control the gasping breath immediately, you are in immediate danger of hyperventilating as your body tries to gather more oxygen.  If you pass out, the body’s natural self-preservation instinct to force you to breathe normally, you pass out in water and drown.

Let’s say you get your breathing under control pretty quickly.  Your body is still reacting to the extreme temperature surrounding your skin by constricting your blood vessels to conserve the warm blood for your heart and brain.  This can limit your ability to move, to even grasp a life ring or a pole to pull you out.  If you sink and there is no help or no one who understands that being under water for more than a minute or two could be fatal or simply not be able to get you out, you will drown.

Finally, if you are in for long enough, longer than the ‘plunge’, hypothermia will set in.  It’s unlikely the hypothermia will kill you if you never exited the water in the first place – again, you will drown first, you will lose the ability to get yourself out of the water.

Drowning can happen in 2 minutes in 2 inches of water.  A plunge into cold water can severely restrict your ability to save yourself.  Add alcohol to the equation, which opens your blood vessels and impairs your body’s ability to constrict the vessels and protect your brain and heart, and you have a definite recipe for disaster.

If you have teenage boys or 20-somethings in particular, be aware, and make them aware.  Just as most people are not even aware that drowning is an issue, they are probably even less aware that jumping into cold water can significantly increase your risk for drowning.

Can you help us stop this dangerous fad?

Tweet this:  #ColdWaterChallenge can kill you #stopdrowning.

Warning Your Child Won’t Keep Them Safe: Explain the Danger

“Look both ways before you cross the street!”

“Don’t run by the pool!”

Chances are you’ve used those phrases countless times with your children, but have you also explained why they should look both ways or not run? Have you ever wondered why your child continues to run by the pool, not look both ways or abide by any of the other almost constant parental warnings that you issue?

A new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology explains that we can’t just issue a warning, we need to explain the danger, explain why the action is necessary.

To keep your child safe, explain the danger“Saying to your child, ‘Don’t do that‘ or ‘Stop‘ or ‘Be careful‘ doesn’t really work,” Plumert says. “I mean, it’s okay to say that, but the next step is to say why not. You shouldn’t assume that your child knows why not, even if it seems obvious to you.”

Mothers used one tactic especially effectively: They pointed out the dangerous elements in the situation, and explained how those current dangers could cause the child to get hurt. The researchers were initially surprised that mothers focused more on the present features rather than pointing out potential outcomes, but think it’s because parents use the present – the danger – to help the child understand the potential outcome – getting injured.”

I was fascinated by the study and asked a colleague who is an expert in pediatric medicine and injury prevention, and a mother, for more information. She shared her lightbulb moment about communicating danger effectively. She heard a lecture on the subject by a brilliant doctor, who is also a researcher and editor of Injury Prevention who asked an 8- year old patient in a clinic, “what do you do before you cross the street?” He got the usual, “look both ways”. Then asked the kid, “what are you looking for?” The kid looked at him quizzically and said, “dinosaurs?”

We assume that children know the outcome, the consequences, simply by pointing out the dangers, but they don’t. Children have not learned about danger because they haven’t been taught. We have to explain why the rules exist, and explain in ways that children can understand.

Children want to learn. They are insatiable sponges when it comes to learning. Ask anyone who has spent time with a 2-year old during their infamous ‘why?’ phase. Contrary to what you may believe by the end of an endless ‘why?’ day, it’s not to annoy you, it’s to make sense of the world, to figure out the ‘if….then’ and how it applies to them. The vast majority of parenting is teaching – both through words and actions – so you need to teach the consequences, not just say ‘don’t do it’. The good news is that if you are consistently sharing the outcome, you may stop getting the questions and may even start seeing your child follow those many rules because they finally understand the reason behind the rule.

“Look both ways before you cross the street!” needs to be followed by “make sure no cars or trucks are coming because they could hit you and you would get hurt.”

All the elements are necessary…

  • Tell your child what to do (look both ways),
  • What they are looking for (cars),
  • Why they should look (they could hit you), and
  • What would happen if they don’t look (you would get hurt).

“Don’t run by the pool!” should be followed by “if you accidentally trip you and fall in the water, or hit your head and fall in the water, you could get hurt more badly than if you just fall on the driveway”.

Make it age appropriate. When my oldest was two and we had a pool I had a rule, “never go down to the (fenced) pool without mom”. I had many “why” questions, and wavering between not wanting to terrify them (or myself) about the fear of drowning, I did the too typical mom thing and started with ‘you might get hurt’ or ‘you might fall in’, but the “why” question kept coming until I finally laid it on the line in terms a 2-year old would understand. “If you go near the pool without me you might fall in and die, and then you would never see me again.” “Die” is impossible for a 2-year old to understand, even “injury” is a pretty nebulous term, because boo-boos usually just require a bandaid and a kiss, but “you will never see mommy again” clearly answered the question because the “why?” questions stopped and neither of my kids ever went near the pool without me. They weren’t afraid of the pool, where we spent many happy hours together, but they did learn to respect the water and follow the rules.

When it comes to water safety, here are some of the basic warnings, which need to be age-appropriate, and the consequences:

  • Don’t run by the pool because if you trip and fall in the water accidentally you might (fill in the age-appropriate blank from ‘hurt your head really badly’ to ‘not be able to get out of the pool’ to ‘drown’ …for older kids, you want to teach respect around water, not fear)
  • Always swim near a lifeguard because they are watching out for you and can help you if you can’t get your head above water.
  • Don’t go by water unless you have a grownup with you because if you accidentally fall in and we can’t hear you, you could die.
  • Always wear a life jacket on a boat because if the boat bumps and you accidentally fall out the life jacket will keep your head above water until someone can help you, otherwise you might sink.

Issuing a warning is always a fine line between teaching and striking such terror that it becomes counter-productive, but your fear of the consequences, of wanting to soften the blow, really of facing your greatest fear of losing your child, may leave your child more exposed to injury or death.

Issue the warnings, and explain the consequences.

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