It was the most heartbreaking, frightening thing I have ever witnessed. I looked over at the pool from my patio chair to check in on my 7 year old – who swims like a fish – to see how he was doing at the pool party. My son was being held underwater by one of his friends. The boy was standing in the shallow end holding my son down with two hands – not in the act of pushing him down but caught in the act of holding him underwater making sure he could not come up for air. In that split second, I could see the panic on my son’s face. He was drowning.
I leaped into action running the two steps to the side of the pool yelling at that boy to STOP.
As my son popped up from under the water he swam over to the side of the pool to me his face crumpled in fear. Clutched in his hand with a death grip was a water gun, the spoils of a playground war in the pool. Shocked, I hustled him out of the pool away from the rest of the group to find out what happened and to make sure he was okay.
We are lucky. So very lucky. He’d swallowed some water. He couldn’t breathe. He was scared. But he was okay.
I let him go back to the party and watched as he ate cake and played with the other kids as I shadowed him silently for the remaining minutes. I saved my tears for later and we held each other oh so close when we got home. I am still absolutely devastated this had happened to my child.
How to Prevent Child Drownings
While I never could have imagined that something like this would happen, it was also mind boggling that a child can almost drown in the presence of half a dozen adults including myself. Especially since I have always been extremely careful and concerned about both pool safety and water safety. This infographic from the Canadian Red Cross is very helpful in understanding what happened:
I realize now that I had let my guard down because my son is a good swimmer for his age, because I thought he was safe swimming with his friends surrounded by a group of adults sitting by the side of the pool “watching”.
Facts about child drownings:
- Drowning is a leading cause of preventable injury and death in children under 10 in Canada. On average there are 57 child drownings in Canada each year.
- Drowning can happen in seconds; most often a child who drowns was last seen within 5 minutes.
- Children who drown are most often silent.
- 85% of parents don’t supervise their children in the water as closely if they are swimming with a friend;
- Your child is not safe because he or she is swimming with someone else. Kids age 5 -14 who drown were with a buddy twice as often as they were alone;
- Four in ten children drown in less than 1 meter of water.
How to Prevent Child Drownings
Child drownings are very preventable if you follow these common sense guidelines:
- Don’t look away. Provide close, constant attention to children in or near the water. With older children – and even good swimmers – it is still important to watch closely. Do not depend on someone else to watch your child if you are there in a group; nobody will be more vigilant than you to make sure your child is safe.
- Do not rely on a “buddy system” to keep kids safe, or make older children responsible for younger ones. If your child is swimming with a buddy or other children he is at increased risk of drowning because of risky behaviours.
- Be in the pool and stay within arm’s reach of children under 5 and inexperienced swimmers while they are in the water. Life jackets are always a good choice. Do not use water wings or air mattresses which cause a false sense of security.
- Put your child in swimming lessons where they will also learn about water safety. Make sure you also know how to swim; take a class if you need to brush up to ensure the safety of your family.
- Fence your pool on all sides with a latching gate. Remove toys from the pool when they are not in use. Young children may try to reach these toys and fall accidentally into the pool.
- Learn CPR and First Aid so you are prepared and can save a life if something goes wrong.
- If a child is missing, look immediately in a pool if there is one in the vicinity. Every second counts.
- Coach your older child on what to do if someone grabs him in the water. Tell your child to dive down and pull the other person down with them; break away and swim under and away to the surface to get help. Tell your child to do what they need to do to get away even if they have to punch, kick or bite.
- Choose to swim in settings where a lifeguard is present for the safest environment. Only 1% of drownings take place in the presence of a lifeguard.
I learned a very hard lesson from this experience. In the end, I hope that some good can come out of this by sharing our story and helping to educate our community about preventing child drownings.
Enjoy your summer, enjoy the pool and the beach – and don’t ever look away from your kids.
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net<