Water fun

Little boy with floaties in pool

Little girl playing at splash pad

Water play is arguably one of the best parts of summer.

When I was little I loved the water… swim lessons, swim team, river tubing, water slides. If it was wet, I loved it. We lived in a neighborhood with a pool so we were there all summer long. Over time I became a strong swimmer.

In the summer, the entire family (including grandparents and cousins) would go to the river for a camping trip. It was definitely not a glamping experience…we slept in sleeping bags on the ground in a tent, no air mattresses, no pillows, and no electricity. We brought our toilet paper to pee in the woods then disposed of the paper in the camp fire. It was all that AND a bag of chips!

When the days got especially hot, we’d canoe on the river and find a sandbar to swim at. We were all out there together and everyone knows that there is safety in numbers. One day, we were all out swimming. The water wasn’t all that deep, my 10 year old self could stand in it. My older cousin was within an arm’s reach of me. My parents were both in the water with my sister and brother. We were safe.

Sometimes we’re not as safe as we think.

I didn’t understand why suddenly I just couldn’t get my footing. My toes kept sliding thru the water, refusing to get a hold in the sand. My head would bob up and down.  I’d take a quick gulp of air when I could.  Thank goodness I was really good at holding my breath. There was no fear at first.  That older elementary age rarely is rarely truly scared– they don’t really understand that bad things happen.  Trying to convert to more of a swimming position didn’t work,  I was stuck. I didn’t seem to be able to do anything other than what I was doing… bobbing up and down, taking quick gasps of air. Fatigue was setting in and I was starting to get worried. My family was right there, they could reach me. But I couldn’t talk. They probably thought I was playing.  They didn’t know I was in trouble.

It only takes 1 person.

I wasn’t really aware of my grandfather’s presence on the bank, but he was watching. Luckily he was paying attention.  It’s easy to surrender to the sights and sounds of summer, of giggling children and splashing water.  Luckily for me,  he recognized the quiet bobbing and realized I was in trouble. He jumped in and fished me out. I was safe.

Drowning is not a loud boisterous event.  In most cases it is quiet and easily masked by sounds of others playing.  Most children who drown each year do so just inches from their loved ones who may interpret the bobbing motions as playful jumping and not a sign of distress.

Can you spot a drowning child?

There is a great post by the daily mail that shows a video of a timely rescue by a skilled lifeguard.  You can watch it here.

There is another another story about drowning here.

The article also lays out a great list of signs to look for if a child is in trouble.  I will summarize the list here.

10 Signs that Someone may be drowning

  1. Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  2. Head tilted back with mouth open
  3. Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  4. Eyes closed
  5. Hair over forehead or eyes
  6. Not using legs – vertical
  7. Hyperventilating or gasping
  8. Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  9. Trying to roll over on the back
  10. Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder

I was lucky. Each year, many are lucky. But water can be dangerous, and many are not so lucky. I still love to swim. In fact, my youngest begs to go swimming at every opportunity.  But my experience when I was young (and let’s face it, a little bit cocky at my abilities) stays with me. I enjoy pools but avoid water that I can’t see the bottom of.. not that seeing the bottom of the river ground would have changed the undertow that got me. Fears and associations are often illogical. I watch my kids in the water a little more critically, and keep my eyes on other littles around me. Because it truly only takes a moment.

Water is a wonderful way to cool off in the summer.

Water is great. It cools us off when it’s hot, allows us to do things like flips that most of us can’t do on dry land, and happens to be a great way to get in some whole body cardio. Enjoy the water, but be safe. Watch the kiddos. Especially if you are at a pool that doesn’t have a lifeguard or at a friend’s house.

Little boy with floaties in pool

Here’s a checklist to keep in mind.

1. Make sure an adult is watching the swimmers at all times or consider hiring an lifeguard to keep an eye on all of the swimmers.

2.  Pay attention.  Even if you are at a pool with a lifeguard on duty, pay attention to where your littles are at all times.  You may be the closest person able to reach them in case of a problem.

3.  Consider swimming lessons for your youngsters.  It’s obviously not a foolproof method for avoiding issues, but it can help.  For your older kiddos, consider a lifeguard training course.  These are often available for teens, can give them an “in” for a neat summer job, and will teach them skills that they can use forever.

4.  Set firm rules for what depth your little is allowed to go in without an adult right there with them.  And don’t hesitate to enforce it.   Kids are always trying to go just a little bit deeper, but unless you are right there within arm’s reach, they shouldn’t be in over their head.

5.  If you want to bring your kids to get wet but don’t really want to get in with them, consider a local splash pad.  They are usually free and are gaining in popularity.

So get out there, have fun, and be safe! And if you’re lucky, maybe the littles will need an earlier bedtime tonight!

Author: Dr. Jenny Seawell

Dr. Jennifer Seawell is a board certified pediatrician currently practicing in Tennessee. She is married with 2 daughters aged 7 and 13.

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