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Drowning: Facts and Tips You Didn’t Expect

It was a gorgeous spring day on Memorial Day weekend, and we were lucky enough to be spending it in a refreshing lake in the woods with friends. Buoyed by the air inside their pink and green translucent swim rings, our children, who range from ages 4 to 7, sang and laughed in delight. We were close by, never letting them get too far out of reach.  A lovely, peaceful, relaxing afternoon.

Pool floats don't prevent drowning.
Don’t depend on pool floats and other swimming aids to keep kids safe.

Then the next thing you know, another woman is yanking my four-year-old son into the air to keep him from drowning.

Not only were we shaken by the close call, but I felt especially unnerved  — I’d just read an article not a week or two before describing drowning. Contrary to common belief, it’s not the loud, splashing event we see in movies, but a quiet, almost subtle sinking.

That’s exactly what happened. My son was right in front of me — but quietly gulping water, right at the surface.  I am so lucky someone else recognized what I so easily overlooked.

Drowning Facts

I’m not alone. My son was exhibiting signs of the Instinctive Drowning Response, something I’d never heard of before researching drowning for this story.

Two of the signs include the lack of ability to call or wave for help and staying vertical or upright in the water — behaviors that might be easy to miss.

The facts are scary. Consider this:

“Of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.” (mariovittone)

In some ways, it’s no wonder that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental deaths among children ages 1-14.

Water Safety: Life-Saving Tips

Safety precautions of all kinds can seem obvious. But looking at this incident and others, little mistakes can be easy to make, especially when you’re having fun.

As parents or caregivers, we might relax into a false sense of security and:

  • Forget to keep children under 5 within arms’ length
  • Depend on swimming aids — like the floating ring — as a substitute for a life vest
  • Allow electrical devices to get too close to the water

So what can you do?

  • Get your kids a lifejacket — and when you go boating, wear one yourself.
  • Stay vigilant and close to your young kids and don’t assume a ring will keep them safe.
  • Learn CPR. You can find a nearby class through the American Red Cross.
  • Give your kids — or yourself — swimming lessons.

Water Safety at Oceans, Lakes, Rivers

Natural bodies of water require specific considerations.

You should always:

  • Check for hazards or water depth before kids begin to jump and dive.
  • Avoid fast-moving currents and water, strong tides and waves.
  • Swim near trained lifeguards in designated areas.
  • Stay away from swimming under or around rafts, docks and boats.

If you take your children to a new natural swimming area, go with someone familiar with the local plants, animals and swimming hazards; poisonous species as well as underwater rocks can pose dangers to you and your family if you don’t know what you’re doing.

These tips aren’t just for kids: According to the Centers for Disease Control, “More than half of fatal and nonfatal drownings among those 15 years and older (57% and 57% respectively) occurred in natural water settings.”

Germs in the Water

Drowning isn’t the only danger to swimmers; bacteria and viruses can cause serious illnesses, especially to young children.

In general, don’t think of the water as a giant bathtub. Clean your children before and after swimming, and don’t let them swim with leaky diapers in a public pool.

Want to know more about safety for your kids?

Get educated on injury prevention.

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