Family Matters
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Family Matters



Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death for kids under 15 years of age. (Number one cause is car accidents.) Once the summer heat arrives in full force, all that water is going to be calling to you and your youngsters. If you want to protect you child from drowning, then you have some parental skills to learn.

First, remember that crazy stuff happens! Accidents occur because we can’t predict them. So, here’s the deal. Things are going to happen that you would never in a million years predict. Some of them will be dangerous.

A few years ago, I was swimming at a local lake. The day-use area was full of families, and people of all ages were splashing around in floats and kayaks. I was standing in about three feet of water and looked up towards the shore.

Right at the water’s edge, in six inches of water, was a boy about 4-years-old. He had a fairly large round float ring nearly three feet across. He had fallen forward, face first into the donut hole. His face was underwater. His feet were in the air and kicking furiously. But his arms were wedged inside the ring, and he couldn’t push himself out.

He was drowning in six inches of water while surrounded by people and right at the shoreline!

I raced towards him. Just before I reached him, he managed to roll out. He came up coughing and sputtering with eyes wide in fear.

The boy’s grandfather was putting gear in the car and left two older kids to watch him. They were playing nearby, but never realized what was happening.

In fact, no one, other than I, had seen that he was in trouble. He was just a kid with a float ring goofing at the edge of the water were no one would expect a four-year-old to drown. Crazy stuff happens! So, watch your kids, really watch them around water. Sitting nearby and looking at your cell phone does not count when your kids are young.

It’s also very important to realize that drowning does not look like what we expect from TV.

Many people drown silently and often very close to other people who never recognize that they are drowning!

If someone is waving and yelling for help, they are in “aquatic distress.” These people can grab a float if it’s thrown to them. However, someone who is drowning will be caught in “the drowning reflex.” These people cannot help to rescue themselves.

If you throw them a life ring, they can’t reach for it. They will be upright in the water with their head tilted back and mouth dipping above and below the water. They will be desperately trying to catch a breath and be unable to make any sound before slipping back under water. They will be silent. Their arms will be out at their sides as they try to keep their head above water.

Generally, they will manage this for 20–60 seconds before they go fully under. You could easily miss this while reading your email.

Please, go to the link below and read this article by Mario Vittone, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer. His widely praised article about what drowning really looks like is truly eye opening. It may save your child’s life.

If your child has a near drowning episode, then be aware of a potentially life-threatening complication.

Secondary drowning and a similar condition called dry drowning, can occur after a child has taken even small amounts of water into their upper airway or lungs. Symptoms can develop shortly after the event or can be delayed by 24–48 hours.

In both cases, a chain reaction of irritation causes the child’s lungs to fill with fluid secretions. This can lead to severe respiratory distress and death. If your child has a near drowning event, get them medically checked out. If they start coughing, wheezing, have fever, weakness, shortness of breath or generally are feeling poorly, don’t dismiss it. Get them emergency care right away.

There are many different water safety devices for families with pools or ponds.

You can find sensors that strap to your kid’s ankle or wrist and will alarm if they are submerged. There are motion sensors that sit in a pool, and alarm if the water is disturbed. Pool covers that can be walked on come in both automatic and manual varieties.

Many areas require either an automatic pool cover or five-foot tall, non-climbable fencing around pools. Australia was able to dramatically reduce drowning deaths just by implementing and enforcing laws requiring pool fences.

However, that pool fencing must fully surround the pool. If it attaches to your home, such that the pool can be accessed from a door in the house, then it will not protect your kids. Many children have wandered off from a party of attentive adults, fallen in a pool, and drowned.

So, make sure that fence around your pool fully encloses the pool, is not climbable, is at least five feet tall, and has a childproof gate.

You can also get sensors for your home’s doors and windows that will alert you if they are opened. If you live near a dangerous stream or lake, then door alarms may be well worth it.

I personally know of a case in which a young child walked out of an apartment and drowned in a three-foot-deep decorative pond. The parents had been caring for a sick sibling. They were severely sleep deprived, and never knew the other child had even gotten out of bed.

If you have a pool, a pond, or live on water of any kind, be aware these are real dangers for kids. I recommend you carefully assess those risks and work to reduce them.

Remember while you’re planning, even older good swimmers can drown. Teach your kids to never swim alone whether in a home pool or open water.

Teach your children about the dangers of moving water. Fast moving streams and rivers, drainage sloughs, steep-sided irrigation canals, waves and rip tides all need to be pointed out with the risks explained to children.

Don’t forget that kids continue to take unexpected, impulsive risks long after you’d think they’d outgrown such mistakes!!

Pool parties should have at least one designated adult on lifeguard duty. Switch them out, so they don’t get fatigued. Give them a do not disturb sign, so they can pay attention to the pool.

When pool play is over, close the fence or pool cover. If you can’t completely secure it, keep someone on duty.

Finally, one of the best ways to keep children safe around water is to have them wear a life vest. Even strong swimmers drown. A life vest is truly a life saver.

Water play is sooo much fun, and a great way to deal with the summer heat. But it does have its risks. So, update your parental skills, your safety gear, your water rules, and pay close attention to your kids while they splash their way through the summer sizzle.



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Kathleen Cawley

Kathleen Cawley

Physician Asst., twin mom, author of “Navigating Modern Parenthood: Warty Truths and Wisdom from an Older Mom with Twins.” Coming out spring/summer 2022.