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Can Your Child Recognize a Rip Current?

The summer I turned 12 I visited my cousins in California. Boogie-boarding in the surf at Santa Monica I had a real scare. A rogue wave flattened me and started dragging me out to sea. 36 years later I can vividly remember the sensation of being in a washing machine, being churned around with the sand scraping against my back and stomach as I was dragged out to sea. The combination of panic and being under water for so long robbed me of the last of my oxygen as I desperately fought to get a foot hold on solid ground. Finally my feet connected with the ocean floor and I stood up – knee deep in water.

I felt foolish, never told my cousins or my aunt. I mean, it’s hard enough being 12, but almost drowning in under 2 feet of water? But I didn’t know. I didn’t understand how to read the ocean and I didn’t know what to do if the water behaved differently than in my local pool and Lake Michigan is a different story from the Pacific Ocean, although just as dangerous if you don’t know what to look for.

When I look at the primary misleading signals that water can give, rip tides or rip currents is probably one of the scariest and least understood, but understanding them prepares you for other events, such as the occasional rogue wave.

I’ll defer to the experts for all the information on rip current, but the most important thing that you need to know, and what you need to teach your children, is how to recognize a rip current, and how to escape if you do get caught.

  • First, a rip current is a strip of deceptively calm water. On either side you’ll see choppy waves, but the rip current is enticingly, beckoningly smooth. That’s the water heading out at a rate faster than an Olympic swimmer can paddle. So, first step, survey the water, and if you see a flat patch, avoid it.
  • Second, if you do get caught, don’t try to fight the water, you’ll never win. Swim slowly and steadily sideways, parallel with the shore. You will either be able to eventually leave the rip current or it will spit you out at the end of the rip current and you just need to swim back to shore.

Ideally you have also chosen to swim near a lifeguard and have checked out any signs warning of rip current or dangerous surf, but since water doesn’t always abide by the rules, it’s best to understand how water acts.

Of course the most important message is ‘don’t panic’, but it’s a lot easier to keep yourself, or your child from panicking if they understand what is happening to them, and go with the water instead of fighting it. I think Dora said it best in Finding Nemo, ‘Just keep swimming….just keep swimming’.

6 Layers of Protection That Keep Your Child Safe Around Water

How many layers of protection does the child in this photo have? Coat to prevent against the elements? Check. Securely buckled into an approved car seat? Check. Extra blanket for warmth? Check. A car that has passed stringent safety tests? Check. But the most important layer is the one you can’t see – he is constantly being taught to always buckle up when he is going in a car – by your actions and possibly by your words. We can make our children’s environment safe by using car seats, safety belts, airbags and cars with good crash-test ratings, but unless we teach a child why those things exist and how to use them, we are only doing half the job of protecting them in the future.

‘Layers of protection’ is the buzzword of choice for drowning prevention. It makes sense for exactly the same reasons we teach children to buckle up. Young children are learning self-control and cause-and-effect – our job is to keep them safe while they are learning, but also to teach them how to be safe, and why, at the same time.

To keep your child safe around water, here are the basic layers of protection you need.

  1. Never leave a child unattended in the bathtub. Personally my rule-of-thumb is that they must excel on a swim team or choose to shower instead of bathe before this rule ends.
  2. If you have a pool, fence the pool. Not the yard, the pool. Look at installing self-closing gates, door alarms and pool alarms as an added layer of protection. Safety Turtle is a great portable choice for holidays and trips to Grandma’s.
  3. Always watch your child near water. Assign an adult to be a ‘Water Watcher’ for 10 minutes, give them a whistle, badge or a sign to hold to remind them that their only job is watching the kids, then rotate so that no one loses focus or misses out on the adult fun.
  4. Empty and turn over buckets, wading pools and anything else that can collect water. Think about covering any ornamental pools or bird baths while your children are under five.
  5. Learn CPR, because drowning happens in under 2 minutes in under 2 inches of water. Accidents do happen. Your local Red Cross or Park District will have classes.
  6. The most important layer though is teaching your child how to be safe around water. Talk to them about why there are fences, why you are watching them, why they need an adult around whenever they are near water – back up your actions with explanations. There is a book about water safety that young children (under 5) love, that can help you with this conversation. It’s called ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’.

With everyone of these actions you are sending two positive messages that will keep your child safe their whole life: Water is fun and you need to act responsibly and safely around water.

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Jabari, which means “brave” in Swahili, is a cute and lovable lion cub. Like most young children, he’s energetic, enthusiastic, curious, and sometimes even a bit mischievous. But Jabari always wants to do the right thing. Children will easily relate to him and want to emulate his positive behavior. Through Jabari’s stories and adventures, children will learn how to be safe in the water. And parents will learn the biggest lesson of all: Always watch your children while they’re in the water. ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’ is available on Amazon.com.

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

Who is the real lifeguardI 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. That’s very good odds, even better when you consider that 75% of open water drownings occur when a lifeguard is not present. There is 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. Next month I hope you’ll check back for my tried-and-true ‘fun for kids, great easy workout for mom’ plan!

Personal WaterCraft & Kids: How to Make Them Fun AND Safe!

Watercraft familySummer is fast approaching and that means that thousands of children will be hitting the water looking to go fast! Summer is the time to think about the beach and being outside and speeding around oceans, lakes or canals in PWC or personal watercrafts. PWC have steadily risen in ownership in the U.S to well over a million and with that increase in ownership come’s an increase in operators and injuries to the tune of over 12,000 documented injuries annually. Most injuries seem to occur when PWC collide—either with other vessels including other PWC or with fixed objects such as docks or tree stumps. Behavioral factors cited in 3 studies include operator inexperience (most operators had <20 hours of experience in boat operation), operator inattention, and excess speed or reckless operation. Some PWC can seat as many as 3 people and hit speeds of 60 mph. PWC are the only recreational boats for which the leading cause of death is not drowning; most fatalities result from blunt trauma.

The answer to the question of how to keep our children safe on the water seems to be the same as it has been for quite some time. Education and hands on practice. We need to educate our children and ourselves on water safety, both in and out of the water and both for operating and riding on a PWC. The Personal Watercraft Industry Association has the following recommendations:

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. No one younger than 16 years should operate PWC.
  2. The operator and every passenger must wear a US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device.
  3. Alcohol or other drug use should be avoided before and while operating PWC.
  4. Participation in a safe boater course with specific information about PWC should be required before operating PWC.
  5. Safe operating practices, such as no operation between sunset and sunrise, no wake jumping, and observing posted speed limits or no-wake zones, should be followed. (No-wake zone means the craft speed is slow enough that no wake is formed behind the craft as it crosses a specific area.)
  6. PWC should not be operated where swimmers are in the water.
  7. If a PWC is being used to tow another person on skis, knee boards, tubes, or other devices, a second person must face the rear to monitor the person being towed.
  8. All persons who rent PWC should be required to comply with these recommendations.
  9. Protective equipment such as wet suits, gloves, boots, eyewear, and helmets may be appropriate to wear.

When it comes to PWC, owning and operating a PWC is the same as owning and operating a car and should be treated with the same amount of respect. Would you hand over your car keys to your child who has little to no driver training? Of course not and the same should hold true when it comes to any PWC. The numbers don’t lie. Everyone needs PWC drivers Ed. Putting in the time before hand will save a lot of pain and suffering during what should be the most fun time of the year for kids.

Thank you and be safe

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Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Pediatric Safety in April 2013. We thought now might be a good time to revisit it.

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.

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!

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