Drowning continues to be a significant cause of death of young children in New Zealand.
Matt Claridgem General Manager of Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) says of drownings, ‘What is particularly tragic is that we know most of the deaths by drowning could have been avoided through a positive mix of appropriate supervision of young children, greater awareness of water safety as a serious issue for all communities, and by ensuring that our youth have the opportunity to learn to swim and survive.”
Making sure your child has swimming lessons is a good start.
“Many parents start swimming lessons out of a concern for their child’s water safety,” says Swim Australia CEO Ross Gage. “Although swimming lessons are never a substitute for parental supervision, they play a crucial part in building layers of protection for young children.”
Here’s one compelling reason to have your child learn to swim by enrolling her in swimming lessons: In 2009, USA’s National Institutes of Health concluded, “Participating in formal swimming lessons was associated with an 88 percent reduction in the risk of drowning in children between the ages of one and four.”
Four layers of protection against drowning
Gage says that they have come up with a four-layer SwimSAFER system which encompasses “layers of protection” to protect children from drowning. The thinking is that if one layer fails there are others behind that may save a life. The layers are:
Children around and in water should always be under constant and active supervision by a competent adult.
Supervision means being in constant visual contact, being within arm’s reach of a non-swimmer or a child under the age of five, not being distracted by anything like phones and doorbells and being ready to respond quickly.
This refers to measures such as ensuring pool fences and gates are in place and meet regulations, and any temporary potential water hazards, like wading pools, are emptied when not in use.
“Children, however, can climb fences. Children as young as two years old, have drowned in backyard pools after using chairs, bins, pot plants, eskies, etc, to boost themselves up to open the gate or climb over.”
Ensure that there are no items in the yard that children could drag over and use to climb the fence. Outdoor furniture must be secured or too heavy for a child to move.
Swimming and water safety skills
Being able to swim well is one of the greatest gifts that can be bestowed upon a child. The basic swimming and water safety skills for young children, should include:
- Water familiarisation, where small children explore and become comfortable in water environments, developing a respect for the water.
- Gaining confidence through various water activities such as “safe entries and exits, breath control, submersions, floating, propulsion with arms and legs, turning and back-floating”.
- Developing formal strokes so that the child can efficiently cover much greater distances.
There are swimming classes available in New Zealand for children as young as 3 months. Find classes near you, here.
Emergency action plan
Because every second counts in a potential drowning, all parents should have an emergency action plan in place, particularly if you have a home pool.
“If you haven’t already done so, revise, refresh or enrol yourself in a cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course so you are prepared in case of an emergency. CPR accreditation is current for a year.”
More water safety tips for parents
Kids’ affinity with the water starts in utero – and parents can build on this at bath time with bub, says Ross Gage.
“The baby doesn’t need to go under water at this early stage. Using a secure and gentle hold lets them feel the buoyancy and the movement of the water over their skin. These early bath experiences should be free from stress and be a lovely way to build rapport with the water,” he says.
The other tip for parents is to try to keep swimming lessons running all year round, particularly when the kids are young.
“The skills and behaviours taught in lessons need constant reinforcement throughout the year,” Gage says. “The risks posed by drowning don’t go away in the cooler parts of the year, so neither should the lessons – they are one of the most proactive things a parent can do for their child.”