Parenting Our Children

Published Friday, May 03, 2013

Making a Splash

As summer approaches and the weather heats up, children are naturally drawn to water. Splashing and swimming can be great ways for kids to keep active in the warmer months. But keeping kids safe must remain a priority if you don't want your family to become part of some scary statistics.

Swimming can be a fun, relatively inexpensive and endless source of entertainment. During the hottest part of the summer, it can be hard for kids to be outdoors without some way to cool down.

What To Do if You Have a Reluctant Swimmer

What To Do if You Have a Reluctant Swimmer

Swim lessons are non-negotiable to parents because we care about our children's safety. But not all kids take to water like fish. So what now?

Relax. Once your child is confident with pool play, he'll be ready to try swim lessons. Keep in mind the following tips for developing water confidence in even the most reluctant young swimmers, and chances are you'll avoid poolside battles.

Go to the pool often. Taking your kids to the pool early and often is the single biggest factor for helping them love water. If you have a backyard pool, use it. If you don't, head to a community pool run by your city, Miami-Dade County, or even organizations such as the YMCA. Swimming and splashing will help make water feel like your child's friend.

Get in with them. Young children progress quicker when parents interact with them in the water, so make water play a family experience. A warmer pool is especially important for reluctant swimmers and will help kids relax, so take advantage of summer.

Confront your own fear. If you're a reluctant swimmer yourself, you may unknowingly convey to your kids that water is something to fear, even if you try to hide your anxiety. Consider taking lessons so you can comfortably join your children in the pool. You're never too old to learn to swim.

Don't pressure kids. Avoid pushing or tricking your kids into doing things they're not ready for. Praise their baby steps and trust they will progress when the time is right. If your child is fearful or timid, try a swimsuit with a built-in flotation device for extra fun and buoyancy. But always stay near.

Avoid flotation aids. Water wings can actually interfere with your child's progress because they move the center of buoyancy to the arms. Pool noodles, meanwhile, can slip out from under a child. Never leave your child unattended even with a flotation toy.

Be patient. Keep in mind that not all kids progress at the same rate.


But water has its dangerous side, too. Drowning is the leading cause of death among children between the age of 1 and 4 years in South Florida. And the danger does not disappear after the toddler years. Drowning is also a leading cause of death for school-age and older children as well.

A study by the Miami-Dade Health Department showed that drownings typically spike to their highest level of the year in the month of May.

"It happens so quickly, and it can happen to anybody," says Mariana Garcia, R.N., a clinical educator in the emergency department of Baptist Children's Hospital. "I think sometimes we get comfortable with water because it is all around us."

Even if you don't have your own backyard pool, your children are still at risk because South Florida has such a wide variety of water bodies — both natural and man-made. Pools pose a definite risk, but so do canals, ponds, the beach, small "kiddie" pools, and even buckets, says Peter Gorski, M.D., the Chief Health and Child Development Officer for The Children's Trust.

"The key is that there is no age at which you should trust your child to be in or near the water alone," Dr. Gorski says. "It's our responsibility to protect our children. Disaster can happen when you turn your attention away for even a minute."

The Children's Trust and other safety organizations offer these tips to keep kids safe and healthy around water all year long:

Establish rules. Teach children they should never go into any body of water without having an adult there to watch them. Begin reinforcing this lesson from a very young age, but don't relax even as children get older and develop swimming skills. "No one should ever go into the water alone," Dr. Gorski stresses.

Avoid unguarded swimming areas. Jumping into a canal may seem like a fun way to cool off to your little daredevil, but kids can quickly get into trouble with steep drop-offs, hidden obstacles, or tangled vegetation underwater. Explain your children why they are not allowed to swim in unguarded canals and ponds, even if their friends dare them to. When at the beach, select swimming areas that have lifeguards nearby.

Keep your guard up. Don't assume that inflatable and plastic pools are safe just because they are small. Children can drown in even a few inches of water. Always stay within arm's reach when children are playing in any kind of pool. Be sure to empty the pool and stow it away after each use.

Feet first. Children should never enter the water by diving in head-first because if the water is shallow this can cause serious head and neck injuries that may lead to paralysis — or worse. They should always go in feet-first to determine how deep the water is. The feet-first rule applies to backyard water games such as "slip-and-slide," as well.

Fence it off. If you have a backyard pool, install a four–sided isolation fence with self–closing and self–latching gates. This can help keep children away from the area when they aren't supposed to be swimming. If you are visiting friends or relatives who have a pool, make sure it has a barrier, or keep a very close eye on your children.

Be vigilant. There should always be an adult specifically designated to watch the children if they are playing in or near the water. Especially at family gatherings and parties, never assume someone else is keeping an eye on the kids. Others may assume the same thing, leaving the children unsupervised.

Put an adult in charge. Never leave a small child alone or in the care of another child while in the pool. The study by the Health Department found that about a third of child drownings occurred when the victim was left with another child. When a young child or inexperienced swimmer is in or around water, an adult should always be within arm's length. If you need to leave the water play area, even for a few seconds, take the children with you.

Pay attention. When watching children in the pool, you should not be involved in any other distracting activity such as socializing, reading, talking on the phone, texting, or doing outdoor chores. Even if there is a lifeguard nearby, watching your children should be your only task.

Be safe. Do not use air-filled or foam toys such as water wings, pool noodles or inner-tubes in place of supervision or life jackets. These are toys and are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

Learn CPR. In the time it might take for lifeguards or paramedics to arrive in an emergency, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone's life. Starting CPR immediately can help reduce the chance of brain damage, for example. Older children and teens should also be taught CPR, Dr. Gorski notes.

Sign up for swim lessons. Swimming lessons are available at public and community pools throughout Miami-Dade County in the summer. Lessons allow your children to start with basic skills and then move on to techniques that will make them stronger swimmers. The Miami-Dade Parks Foundation even has scholarships available. Lessons are available for tots to adults.

If your child needs to develop or improve swimming skills, you may want to consider a summer camp program that includes lessons.

Formal swimming lessons can help protect young children from drowning. However, even children who have had lessons need constant, careful adult supervision around the water.

"Lessons are OK, but kids can get into trouble even with instruction," Dr. Gorski says. "The edict that you should never take your eyes off your children around water is critical. You can never let your guard down."