Water safety lessons should begin at 6 months old, experts say
Summer in the Upstate means many families will spend as much free time as possible near a body of water. May is National Water Safety Month, a time to put a family focus on keeping children safe and preventing drowning.
Tim Rymer, aquatics director for the YMCA of Greenville at the Eastside and Caine Halter branches, said the Y’s swim lesson and water safety programs are part of the organization’s efforts to be national leaders in drowning prevention.
Rymer said he was a late learner – he didn’t learn to swim until age 18 – but he encourages parents to get in the water with their little ones as part of a water discovery program when babies are 6 months old.
“We are discovering the water,” he said. “We are spending time teaching the kids but teaching the parents as well.”
Parents are urged to learn the basics of CPR and always have a designated water watcher when families are near water. This should apply even if the event doesn’t involve getting in the water. Children will be attracted to a pool no matter what else is going on around them.
From the beginning, children should be taught that they must always ask permission before getting in the water.
“Asking permission is the No. 1 tool we use,” Rymer said.
If parents aren’t strong swimmers, Rymer said it’s never too late to learn. And for those who can swim, consider taking a lifeguard class to learn how to better handle emergencies.
“Set an example and follow through,” he said. “It’s a great idea to role model that you are trying to learn.”
Designating an adult to watch the water is critical, Rymer said.
“Even if there is a lifeguard on the pool deck, have a parent responsible for the kids,” he said.
When buying a swim suit, consider the color as well. It is important for children to stand out against the pool color when they are under water.
“If you are out riding your bike in the road, it’s great to wear bright, reflective clothing,” Rymer said. “That applies to the pool, too.”
Rymer said families should create safe swim areas by making sure pools are surrounded by a fence of at least five feet tall, using a childproof lock on the gate and using a strong pool cover.
In addition to the immediate danger, which is something parents may be aware of, Rymer said families should understand secondary drowning, which can occur when someone has been submerged and then pulled out of the water.
“Secondary drowning can happen at any age,” he said. “Someone that has taken a lot of water into their lungs may be coughing but seem OK. If they don’t seek medical care, water can block the airway.”
Consider these tips from National Water Safety Month
•Constant Adult Supervision — Actively supervise children and non-swimmers around the water, even when lifeguards are present. Don’t just drop kids off. Avoid distracting activities such as checking email or social media.
•Learn to Swim —No matter your age learning to swim is one of the best ways to be safer in and around the water.
•Look for Lifeguards — Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards.
•Swim with A Buddy — Do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a lifeguarded beach, use the buddy system.
•Wear A Life Jacket — Adults and kids should always wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket while boating. Non-swimmers and inexperienced swimmers should also wear a life jacket at all times when in and around the water. Inflatable toys can be fun, but are not a substitute for U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.