Splashing around in the water is a wow of a time for littlies, especially in the summer months, and the great news is that getting kids in the swim early on is not only great for health and development, but also for preventing tragedy occurring.
It’s a startling figure: on average one child dies each week in Australia as a result of drowning. And for each of those killed, more are left brain damaged. It can happen without any warning noises and, terrifyingly, 20 seconds is all it takes for a small child to drown. We’ve all seen the chilling government safety ads and heard the terrible news stories of kids drowning each year – but what can we do to make sure our little ones stay safe around water?
Here's some great advice from Swim Australia CEO Ross Gage and Olympic gold medalist Michael Klim, who runs infant classes at this Klim Swim centres.
1. Start early!
Most swim-school programs begin at six months, when bubs’ immune systems are considered sufficiently developed to cope with a public pool, but there’s nothing to stop you embarking on some home-schooling while your bub’s still wet behind the ears – by making a splash at bathtime!
“Introduce water play in the bath by drizzling water over your baby’s head, playing with the water and enjoying ‘splash’ time,” advises Ross. “Show him that water is fun!” You can start teaching your bub breath control, too, using verbal cues as you softly splash his face. Before gently pouring a bit of water over his head, say your little one’s name followed by the words “ready, go”. “He’ll learn pretty quickly that he needs to close his eyes and take a breath,” Ross says. You could also let him watch ‘ducky’ go under the water before coming back up happy and safely so he knows there’s nothing to fear, Ross adds.
“The sooner you can start water familiarisation and a level of comfort with aqua play, the better,” says Michael. “The earlier that children get comfortable in the water, the quicker they’ll develop their swimming skills.”
2. Invest in lessons
Once he’s old enough, formal lessons will allow your littlie to get comfortable in the pool and mean he can begin learning about water safety and the basics of swimming in a structured but fun way. It’s also an ideal opportunity for the two of you to bond, as well as a great way to meet other mums.
“I’d definitely look for a swim school that is registered with Swim Australia and that uses teachers with nationally recognised qualifications,” Michael advises. “I’d also look into the size of classes to ensure that I’m comfortable with the level of attention that my child would receive, and the water temperature so that the kids enjoy themselves while they’re in the pool!”
Ross adds that it’s a good idea to consider other factors before signing up with a swim school, such as “the visual stimulus in and around the swim centre and staff approachability and connection with the children.” To get the most out of your swim-school experience, he also suggests "getting there early so your child can get used to the centre and watch others enjoy the class.”
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3. Be on watch
It’s important to remember swimming lessons won’t make your child ‘drown-proof’ and with more than 70 per cent of child drownings linked with inadequate adult supervision, it’s vital that you stay with your little one at all times whenever he’s in or near water.
“No matter how confident you are in your child’s ability to swim, he should always be actively supervised around water,” says Melanie Courtney, executive officer of Kidsafe Victoria. “Active adult supervision means being within arm’s reach and maintaining constant visual contact at all times. If you have to leave the water area, even for a moment, take your child with you.”
Some other swim-safe points to remember are to avoid leaving older children in charge of young ones around any body of water and to never assume someone else is watching your child (it’s a particularly good idea to nominate an adult to supervise children at parties and events, where you assume someone will be on the lookout, but where it’s easy to get distracted).
“And constantly reinforce the water safety rule, too: ‘I only go near the water with a grown-up’,” adds Ross.
4. Fence it off
In Australia, it’s a legal requirement that all pools and spas have childproof safety barriers with self-closing or self-latching gates. If you have a swimming pool at home, it’s important to…
- Make sure there are no objects such as barbecues, chairs, tree branches, pot plants or pool pumps around that your child could use to climb and gain access to the pool area.
- Ensure the fence and gate are in working order. Regularly check for damage and wear, rust or missing screws and ensure that maintenance is carried out to fix any issues.
- Never prop the gate open.
- Remove the temptation for your littlie to get into the pool area by clearing away toys, floaties and other swim aids from in and around the water when not in use.
“Blow-up paddling pools also pose a drowning hazard for children,” Melanie advises, pointing out they also require constant and active adult supervision. “These types of pools should always be emptied immediately after use and stored out of reach of children. And if you have an inflatable pool filled with water, which is deeper than 300mm and not emptied after use, a safety barrier is required.”
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5. Know little things count
When you think of drowning, hazards such as backyard pools, the ocean, rivers, lakes and even full bathtubs come to mind. But small children can drown in just a tiny amount of water – as little as 5cm. Babies and toddlers are top heavy, meaning curious kids can fall head first into containers such as dog bowls or eskies and not be able to get themselves out again.
“Take precautions around your home,” warns Melanie. “Always empty bath water, place a cover over fish ponds and water features, and make sure you empty buckets and anything that contains water. It’s also a good idea to restrict children’s access to areas such as bathrooms and laundries.”
Also make sure that nappy buckets filled with water have a lid, pet bowls are kept shallow, and toilets are fitted with safety locks. At parties, drink and ice buckets should be kept away from children, too.
In case of emergency
“Knowledge is an important part of water safety,” says Melanie, who says that up-to-date first aid skills could one day save your child’s life. “Enrolling in a resuscitation course and updating your skills annually will help you to respond in case of an emergency.”
For a comprehensive collection of useful parenting information, specifically developed to help answer more of your most commonly asked questions by parents of young children, click here to the Children's Panadol page.