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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.

Summer Checklist – Ready, Set, Swim!

Summer’s almost here!!!

The weather is trending towards hot and sunny, the pools and beaches are beginning to open for the season, pandemic restrictions are FINALLY starting to lift and you are thinking it might just be safe to wash the snow pants.

So, what do you need to be ready for summer?

  • Swimsuits and goggles – check to make sure last year’s still fit and they aren’t falling apart from the sunshine, salt and chlorine. And if you have a child who won’t put their head in the water, goggles might be the answer.
  • Sunscreen. Do what the Australians do – keep a bottle by the back door and have everyone slap on a bit more every time they go out.
  • Water toys. The more interesting the toys in your beach bag, the less of the teasing/fighting/whining as the ‘toy’ becomes a younger sibling. I love splash bombs, the small torpedoes, diving rings and self-propelled sharks. Not only are they fun, but they keep your child diving and playing in the water which builds confidence and strength. I also have an entire basket of splash bombs in my basement for battles during the cold winter months – a great way to burn off steam safely.
  • Flotation device. What is a parent to do when you are at the pool with more than one child and they aren’t truly accomplished swimmers? We know ‘always watch your children’, but having two active kids myself I can tell you it’s not humanly possible, especially in a crowded pool. Either an approved life vest or, my favorite invention, the Swim Fin. It looks like a shark fin, so it’s totally cool, and it keeps beginner swimmers afloat. What I like best is that it keeps arms and legs completely free to practice their skills, safely, and kids love wearing them – it gives new meaning to the game ‘sharks and minnows’. Also amazing for helping good swimmers improve their stroke, especially butterfly. Contact www.swimfin.co.uk to find out where to buy them near you.
  • Rules. Number one rule: Never go near water without a grownup. Summer safety is very important. Train your kids to tell you ‘I’m going into the pool’. I’m going to the water slide’ ‘I’m going to be near the fountain’ ‘I’m going down by the lake’, and then make sure you are watching them. Teach your kids how to be safe near the water, to self-regulate their behavior so they are safe for a lifetime, not just a minute. The best rule for adults? Assign a water-watcher – an adult whose only job for 10 minutes is to watch the kids, and only watch the kids – no chatting, no texting, no magazines – and then ‘tap’ the next adult so that you can all have a good time and your kids will be safe.

HAVE FUN!!!! My pool/beach bag is packed, bring on summer!

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!

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 + 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.

Africans Are the Best Swimmers…At ANY Age

Little swimming champFor many years, conventional wisdom has held that blacks can not swim. (I use the term ‘black’ to apply to anyone of African descent. The term is meant with respect to encompass the broad range of cultures descending from the African continent) A widely discredited academic report years ago stated that the physiology of a black person leads to their sinking which explained why blacks couldn’t swim. Prejudice dressed up with academic credentials to support entrenched beliefs, accepted as fact, all real evidence to the contrary. Such is the insidious nature of prejudice.

I had the great pleasure of meeting with Bruce Wigo, President of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We discussed how cultural norms have kept African-Americans out of swimming lessons. The ISHOF, well worth a visit, has an excellent exhibit which explains how history really worked. The exhibit begins as: “In 1451, Europeans began their explorations of the west coast of sub-Saharan Africa and discovered that African people were by all accounts expert watermen and “the best swimmers in the world”. The Europeans attributed these extraordinary swimming skills to constant exercise and “from being brought up, both men and women from infancy, to swim like fishes.” The exhibit goes on to explain how valued Africans were in the Navy and on fishing fleets. During the period of slavery in the U.S., in the 18th century it was estimated that 80% of blacks could swim and only 20% of whites could swim, until it was determined that swimming allowed slaves to escape and was banned, relegating an entire cultural group to a higher risk of drowning deaths for many generations. If you’d like the full text, just e-mail me at rebeccalioness@gmail.com

Indigenous people and minorities consistently drown at higher rates than whites in virtually every country, and yet many of these groups come from a rich heritage that understood and respected water. Native Americans. Maori. Aboriginals. Inuits. And Africans. There is no rational reason. Please tell your kids this…and then teach them to swim.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it – and die.

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