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Summer’s On the Way: How to Keep Your Kids Safe Near Water

girl swims with coachNow that the holidays have passed and the school year is back in full swing, the kids can see spring break and summer on the horizon. Spring break will be here in a few months and before you know it summer will be in full swing as well.  I realize that I am writing this from warm and sunny Miami and you may be reading this with 4 feet of snow outside but it does not change the fact that now is the time to start preparing for the summer activities and mainly the water activities.

Fire departments around the country prepare for summer with drowning and water rescue scenarios, so if your children do not yet know how to swim on their own then now is the time to start teaching them, or get them into classes that will prepare them for being in or around the water.   I think it goes without saying that water is deadly for anyone but mostly for children and not every child picks it up at the same pace.  Some kids pick it up right away and swim like little fish and some take longer so I am hoping that you can locate swimming classes in your area, but if you cannot please check websites like the Red Cross: Swim Class and Water Safety Training or your local Boys and Girls Clubs for classes in your area or at least for ones not too far away.

Giving your children a foundation in water safety and the ability to swim will serve them whether they are around a pool or out on a boat and will give you a little piece of mind that your child is prepared and will know what to do should an accident happen.

Summer Safety Checklist for Parents…From Our Top Paramedic

Attractive young beautiful girl drinking water from plastic bottlesSchool will soon be out, summer will officially be upon us, and the kids will be looking for things to do. All of these things are going to happen soon so it is time to break out the summer checklist to ensure that we not only have a fun summer, but that we also have a safe summer. The two most common emergencies we encounter in summer time are heat related illnesses and water emergencies. Heat related illnesses can range from cramps and dizziness, to fainting and passing out.  The key to heat illnesses is to stay vigilant with your kids and hydrate them.  If you know they will be outside during the day, then they need to hydrate before, during, and after outside time.  Stay aware of the signs of heat problems.  Cramps, dizziness, dry red skin, and nausea are just some of the warning signs.  If you encounter any of these heat problems with your children, please move them to a cool place with shade or air conditioning, and slowly cool them down with cool towels and water, and if the heat problems are causing your child severe problems, with breathing or blacking out, then call 911 immediately.

Water emergencies can range from falling off a boat to drownings in pools.  The key to water safety and children is 100% focus with no distractions.  Kids can drown in a very small amount of water and it can happen in what seems like a blink of an eye, so the best strategy is to never let them out of your sight when near or in the water.  If your child does not know how to swim then swimming lessons can be a fun summer activity that lasts a lifetime.  If you and your children will be on a watercraft of any kind, please remember to wear life-jackets at all times and obey the rules of the water.   If your child is going to a summer camp with a pool or traveling to a pool then purchase them their own flotation jacket or shirt to take with them.

If your child is going to camp this summer, please take a little time and do your homework on the camp and its counselors.  Finding out things like how many kids will be in the camp, what is the counselor to kid ratio, are all camp staff members certified in CPR, how is the camp set up? Is it near water? Etc.  Asking questions like these will let you know how committed the camp is to your child’s safety. If your child is staying home during the summer, the questions are almost the same.  Who is watching the child, do they know CPR, can they swim, will they have 100% focus at all times with your child,  can they handle an emergency with your child like a fall or something more severe?  Having an older sibling stay home and watch a younger one during the summer can both a blessing and gamble, so make sure everyone is clear about what is expected and what to do in an emergency.

The two things we always tell people are

– Nobody is drowning proof, and

– Hydrate hydrate hydrate.

Thank you and have a safe summer.

Spring Break By the Water? Boat Safety Tips You Need to Know

Travel of children on water in the boatAs this middle of the school year is upon us, so too is spring break.  Spring break is a popular time to travel or to just stay home and spend time with the family.  Many families choose to spend time on the water.  Here in south Florida, and I am guessing everywhere there is accessible water, the activity level on the water gets very busy during spring break and with an increased level in boating, comes an increased level of emergencies, most of which can be avoided.  If you are planning to head out on the water this spring break season, please take the proper precautions.

Here is a list of the most common things we see when emergencies happen on the water:

  1. Please have a working knowledge of how to operate a water craft before heading out. The first time you operate your new boat or jet-ski should not be on a major water holiday with your family on board.
  2. Your water craft should be checked before putting it in the water. You don’t want to get stuck in the ocean with no gas, a radio that does not work, and no lights.  Please do not boat at night unless you are an experienced boater.
  3. There are coast guard regulations as to what specific items may be required in your state, such as life jackets or flares, so make sure to have all the necessary gear. Every passenger should be wearing life jackets!  ESPECIALLY KIDS!
  4. No texting and driving. This is not just a slogan for cars.  This applies to watercraft as well.   Texting and boating is being linked to more and more boating accidents.
  5. No drinking and driving. This is linked to more water accidents than anything else.  I get it, it’s a holiday, you are enjoying yourself, but save the drinking for when you get to where you are going and have a designated driver if you have to drink.  By the way boating under the influence or (BUI) is the same as DUI in many states so something else to think about before drinking and driving on the water.
  6. And finally: Slow Down! Boats can go just as fast as cars, are just as deadly as cars, and are 10 times harder to control.  Please slow down and enjoy the ride and make sure you and your crew arrive and enjoy your time together.

There are many more things that go into boating safety.  The bottom line is that most or all of the things we commonly see causing emergencies on the water are preventable and should be done beforehand or decided on before leaving the dock.

Please be safe and have a great spring break!

Last Words on Kids and Water Safety…

Global Water SafetyIt is with sadness that I am ending my time as the water safety expert on Pediatric Safety.  I am working on a project to bring global awareness to the issue of water safety and have decided that I need to focus 100% of my time to that effort.  Over the last four years I’ve shared information designed specifically to keep your child safer.  Today I’d like to pull back and show you the bigger picture, in part so that you will understand why I am driven to create awareness on a global level, and in part so that you understand why teaching your child water safety now will keep them safer for their entire life, no matter where they live or travel.

  • Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death globally, but 90% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income country.
  • Children under age five are most at risk for drowning and age two is the most common age for drowning.
  • In countries like the U.S., for every child that drowns, another five have a non-fatal drowning accident, often resulting in lifelong mental and physical damage. Most emergency room visits for children are for drowning.
  • We don’t have the data to count most drowning deaths in the world, so we know the problem is even worse than the numbers show. There is no global strategic effort to end drowning, relatively few programs in place to teach survival swimming and water safety, and virtually no funding.

Now for the good news.  Drowning is preventable and the actions are in your control.

Here is what you need to do to keep your child safer:

  • Install a four-sided fence around your pool with a self-closing and self-locking gate. Empty buckets, ornamental ponds, and splash pools when not in immediate use.
  • Supervise young children and non-swimmers around water, meaning you are close enough to touch them. Leave your phone in the bag – texting and water are just as dangerous as texting and driving. This means in the bath, at the pool, by the lake, or even the drainage ditch after a rainstorm.
  • Teach school age children basic swimming, water safety, and safe water rescue skills.
  • Learn CPR and safe water rescue skills.
  • Teach others – most people aren’t even aware drowning is an issue. All it takes is two minutes and two inches of water and drowning is completely silent. Don’t be afraid to speak up, you could save a child’s life.

Many thanks to the Pediatric Safety team for being willing to devote attention to the neglected issue of water safety and to children’s safety in general.  Additional thanks for their consistent and enthusiastic support of my work.  It has truly been an honor to work with them.  Finally, thank you for taking the time to learn about water safety.  Parenting is hard and time-consuming work and there are many days when adding one more thing seems overwhelming.  Thank you for keeping water safety on your ‘to do’ list – it really does make a difference.

For more information on the global issue of drowning:

Summer + Kids = Swimming Lessons + Fun

 kids-swim-lessonsSummer is fast approaching.  End of school concerts and events.  The trees and flowers are blooming.  Remember how you looked forward to that long summer break?  No school!  Twelve long weeks of sunshine and fun!

And then I became a mother.  Suddenly 12 long weeks of summer became more of a challenge.  The first couple of weeks are always great, everyone needs a break from the over-scheduled frenetic school year schedule.  An exhale from the 6am wake-up calls, packing lunches, and scrambling to fit in homework, soccer practice, violin lessons around life’s other commitments.  Home all day becomes bored all day.  Bored kids = cranky kids.  Cranky kids = cranky mom.  Which is why as soon as spring break ends I’m grabbing my calendar and trying to schedule the right balance of camps and activities to keep my kids and myself happy, active, and engaged so that we really do enjoy summer and still like each other by the time school starts again.

Topping your list should be time in the water, because water makes everything about summer better.  It cools you off, lifts your spirits, wears you out in the best possible way, is a great way to hang with friends, improves health, and is just plain fun.  Here are some ideas for summer water activities to add to your calendar:

  • Put those year-round swim lessons to use and enroll your children in a local swim team, which is usually a fun and social manageable level of competitiveness for even the most cautious of swimmers. That nudge of racing with all your friends cheering on the deck can make a child realize that yes, they have been learning to swim, and they are actually a better swimmer than they thought, and it’s fun!  Swim team can build confidence and make a child more interested in continuing in swim lessons.  Make sure you find a team that fits your child’s level of competitive spirit.  If they have a relaxed spirit, stay away from the Olympic hopeful team, but if your child has a competitive streak, find a more competitive team.  The goal is to strengthen their swimming skills, not make them hate swimming.
  • Take swimming lessons. If your school year schedule is too much for swimming lessons, summer is the perfect time to get your child into swimming lessons.  Even a few weeks of regular lessons makes a huge difference with skill and confidence.  No child wants to be the one sitting by the side of the pool or the lake while their friends all splash and have fun.  Knowing how to swim opens social doors, not just being safer around water and learning a lifelong skill.
  • Explore a new water sport.   Snorkeling.  Scuba diving.  Water polo.  Surfing.  Paddleboarding.  Junior Lifeguards.  Once you know how to swim, the possibilities are endless.  Reinforcing to your children that knowing how to swim makes so many more fun activities available to them will really cut any resistance to continuing swim lessons.  My kids are at the point where they are happy to continue swim lessons because they are seeing how many things they can do with that basic skill.  Neither is into competitive swimming, and both are already strong swimmers, but they have seen how many cool things they can do in the water.  They understand that the stronger a swimmer they become, the more fun activities are available.

Like reading or math, swimming is a skill that becomes stronger and more exciting and fun over time.  Take advantage of summer to keep the momentum going by showing your kids the world of possibilities that comes from being a strong swimmer.  Your kids will thank you for many years, and you’ll be able to look back at the summer with fonder memories.

Holding Your Breath Underwater: What Parents Should Know…

Remember contests to see who could stare the longest without blinking or who could hold their breath the longest?  Such contests are the stuff of most of our childhoods.  Seemingly harmless displays of prowess.  Life is never as simple as those carefree childhood contests.

kids-holding-breath-contestWhen a child is learning to swim, they need to be able to hold their breath for a reasonable amount of time.  The ability to put one’s face in the water is an important part of being comfortable in the water.  Unfortunately, some children (and adults), find this apparently simple act extremely difficult.  The fear of water, of having your face in the water, can paralyze someone and keep them from learning to swim or ever be comfortable in the water, which then places them at a higher risk for drowning.  Fortunately there are a number of people who are dedicated to helping people overcome these fears.  Check out Project Face In The Water and Water Phobias if you or your children have this reasonable but paralyzing fear.  Know there is almost certainly someone in your area who focuses on teaching people who are afraid of the water.

The other extreme is holding your breath under water for too long.  Competitive swimmers are regularly encouraged to swim under water for as long as possible to increase lung capacity and speed.  Even casual swimmers will challenge themselves to see if they can swim the length of the pool, have breath holding contests, or just swim underwater a bit further.  The more hard-core breath-holding experts go into free diving, challenging themselves to swim deeper, stay down longer, or simply to push themselves to do that extra 20 feet without a breath.

The problem is, if the body decides you have gone too long without oxygen, it will force you to breathe in.  The easiest way for the body to accomplish this is to make you faint, which will then allow the involuntary motion of breathing to continue.  (As opposed to the voluntary motion of holding your breath)  Fainting on dry land isn’t pleasant, but it’s rarely fatal.  Fainting in water can quickly lead to death by drowning.  Drowning isn’t breathing in water, it’s not being able to breathe in oxygen.  Trying to breathe when you are in the water is like trying to breathe in outer space, there simply is no oxygen and you suffocate to death.

When you pass out in the water, it is called Shallow Water Blackout (SWB).  Unfortunately it is a leading cause of death among competitive swimmers.  If you have a competitive swimmer, a risk-taker, a snorkeling enthusiast, or just a regular swimmer, learn more about Shallow Water Blackout.  Understand how it happens, and how you can keep it from happening to you or someone you love.

There are a range of resources to help you.  Life Like Benjo and Shallow Water Blackout Prevention is raising awareness about SWB.  If you are a swim coach or dive instructor, I strongly recommend you contact Aquatic Safety Research Group for information on how to coach more safely.

Breathing correctly while in and around water is one of the most calming and joyful experiences you can have.  Know how and when to breathe properly.  Breathe.

(And the stare down contest did come in handy, totally unexpectedly, in a showdown with a CEO when I was in my 20’s.  I won.)

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