Teaching water safety to children should have the same priority as teaching road safety, says Karla McCaughan, Swim School Quality Services Manager for YMCA Auckland.
Most of the under-five drownings in New Zealand happen when children find water unattended, says Karla, who was recently awarded 2015 AUSTSWIM Aotearoa Teacher of Infant and Preschool Aquatics Award.
“We don’t allow a preschooler to cross the road unattended or at their own command, so let’s teach our young ones that they can only go in water when a grown up is with them, and that they only go in water when an adult says they can.
“At the end of the day, there is no better way to keep your child safe around water than through constant and vigilant supervision. The benefits of participation in a good learn-to-swim programme are so valuable that parents shift from an ‘I can’t afford this’ to a ‘can I afford not to?’ mentality around teaching these essential skills to children.”
According to Safekids Aotearoa, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children between one and four years old, and the third leading cause of injury-related death among children 19 and under.
Karla’s ten tips for swimming safer this summer
Make sure you actively supervise children swimming at all times. It can take a matter of seconds for a child to get into trouble in water. Keep your eyes on them and if you can’t keep them within sight and within reach, have them stay out of the water until you’re able to go in with them. It’s a good idea to have a designated supervisor for parties and family events. Parents can sometimes become confused as to who is watching the kids so by making someone responsible we can ensure all children are supervised at all times.
Teach your children that they are not allowed to play in, on or around water unless you are with them; 99% of drownings in this age group happen when children “find” water whilst unattended. Teach your children to ask themselves “Have I got an adult with me?”
Learn to swim
Make sure the kids and you are confident and competent in the water. Head to your local pool to practise and book the kids in to swim school lessons. Choose an AUSTSWIM Recognised Swim Centre or Swimming New Zealand Quality Swim School. These swim schools are guaranteed to deliver a programme that employs teachers with an industry recognised qualification. A good swim school will deliver a programme that not only teaches swimming but basic water safety and survival skills also.
Education is key
Don’t scare your kids but make sure they are truly aware of the dangers of water. Have an open chat with your children about what they would do if they saw a friend struggling in the water: It is important that they know not to go in the water to try and rescue someone else. Talk about what items could be thrown to someone in difficulty to help them float, like a ball or a chilly bin lid. Make sure they know to tell an adult immediately.
Identifying water hazards around the home
Work as a family to identify all water hazards in and around your home. There are many items that may present a drowning threat. Things like buckets, even pet bowls, anything that can contain water. Always stay with children during bath time and minimise distractions like answering the phone. Empty the bath tub after use and keep all plugs out of reach.
Water toys are not a safety device
Never rely on water rings or inflatable toys for safety. Toys are great for having fun with when supervised swimming, but will not protect your child from drowning. They must also be removed from the pool when not in use; this may help prevent a toddler accidently falling in while trying to recover a toy.
Home pool safety
Make sure if you or your friends own a pool, that it matches the safety standards and that it is safely fenced with securely lockable gates. Never leave anything that your child can climb on by the pool fence and ensure the gate swings back to closed after being opened and have a child proof latch. Always empty and store paddling pools after use.
As soon as you get to the beach, look around and familiarise yourself with the swimming area. It’s also a great time to remind the kids of what is around them and even outline a ‘swim zone’ that they shouldn’t swim past or beyond. If it is a beach with red and yellow flags, make sure they only swim in that area. This is where the life guards patrol, and indicates the safest place to swim on that beach.
If you are picnicking by a river or water hole be aware of the potential dangers. More people drown in rivers in New Zealand than anywhere else. The look of rivers can be deceptive with water often moving faster than it appears. Pick your swimming spot carefully and watch for hidden objects like logs and rocks.
Children should wear life jackets at all times when on a boat, at the wharf or near any body of water. The life jacket must be the right size, tight fitting and worn correctly. Accompanying adults should wear life jackets, not only for their own protection but to set a good example.
YMCA Auckland offers free Water Safety Mat-time Sessions for kindys, daycares and playgroups. They are interactive, educational and fun. Through stories and songs, children are taught some really important water safety messages. Children under the age of 16 can also swim for free at any pool facility managed by YMCA Auckland, thanks to Auckland Council.
Get in touch with your local YMCA to see how your family can become more confident and be safer in the water this summer, or click here for more information.