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Water Safety Watchwords for Childcare Givers: The importance of water safety for kids

It doesn’t matter whether the kids in your care are casual swimmers or seasoned water-lovers. Nor does it matter if they take to the water for sports and fun, or participate in aquatic activities for therapeutic reasons. What matters is that, as caregivers, you are responsible for their safety while they are involved in water events. It’s always Safety First! And Montgomery childcare centers instill those watchwords in all school age programs where water events occur.

Glaring Numbers that Need Watching

According to the Childrens Safety Network (CSN), there are nearly 3,700 unintentional drowning-related deaths recorded annually in the U.S. Over 24% of those (more than 900) involve children and adolescents between ages 0 to 19. These are scary numbers, but they’re even scarier for caregivers of younger children.

CSN’s data indicates that accidental drowning is the leading cause of death amongst children aged between 1 and 4-years old. They’re the third leading cause of unintentional injury death in older child populations, aged 5 to 19-years. This makes it more imperative for parents and caregivers of younger children to be watchful and sensitive to water safety.

When near water, child caregivers shouldn’t let down their guard when watching over any child in their care. However, statistically, if you are responsible for caring for a male child, you should add an extra layer of water safety caution. Statistics indicate that, with a drowning-related death rate of 15.6 per 1,000,000, boys are at higher risk from drowning than girls (6 per 1,000,000).

water safety kids

Why Kids are at Risk Near the Water

Whether it’s in a backyard pool, a community pool or splash pad, by a lake or at a seaside resort, or when enrolled in the Montgomery Child Care Summer Adventure program, kids love the water – and aquatic activities are healthy for the child. Water activities can:

  • Strengthen a child’s muscles
  • Improve synchronization and balance
  • Develop muscular coordination
  • Help build strength
  • Increase mental acuity and cognitive health
  • Aid in relaxation and stress relief
  • Instill kids with greater self-confidence

However, their zest for participating in water activities doesn’t reduce the risks associated with these events. Without child caregivers adhering to the Safety-First watchwords, kids are at risk for various reasons:

  • Lack of training or ability to swim
  • Missing or insufficient barriers preventing unsafe access to the water features
  • Unsupervised or improper supervision from accompanying adults
  • The kid’s proximity to larger waterbodies, such as gushing rivers or raging streams
  • Ignorance of, disregard for, or failure to wear proper safety wear, such as life jackets and personal floatation devices (PFD)
  • Unexpected medical episodes, such as seizures, cramps, heat strokes or cardiac events

Kids are typically fascinated with new environments and situations. So, when they encounter water features (pools, ponds, garden waterfalls), or natural waterbodies – like lakes and rivers – for the first time, the risks rise proportionately. Conversely, if children aren’t regularly exposed to water and aquatic activities, they often let down their guard, or lose safety inhibitions. When that happens, there’s a likelihood that they’ll forget any safety instructions previously distilled into them. That’s when parents and caregivers must be extra sensitive to the Safety-First watchwords!

Water Safety Tips

Given the indiscriminate nature of waters’ ability to injure or drown children, there’s a heightened responsibility for adults, in a childcare role, to embrace water safety protocols. These safety measures should go above and beyond what one might put in place for other vulnerable populations – such as seniors or adults with some limited disabilities.

Here are some protective measures that caregivers must consider to keep kids safe from water-related tragedies:

  • If you are entrusted with caring for babies and toddlers, remember that kids that age can drown in as little as an inch of water[i]. Given this fact, it’s imperative that extremely young kids are not left unattended for any length of time in aquatic settings.
  • When using baby bath rings and seats, be extra vigilant of their safety at bath time. Given that caregivers may apply soap or shampoo during the baby’s bathing time, there’s an elevated possibility of the baby slipping out of the seat or ring, and into the water. Once again: Be watchful at all times!
  • Remove water from all portable play features, such as wading buckets and inflatable pools. Once drained, store them upside down, or if it’s the end of summer, remove them and place them in a locked cabinet or on a high shelf where kids can’t access them.
  • Make sure there’s a self-latching, self-closing fence surrounding a pool whether in the backyard, a play park, or a community rec-center setting, or anywhere else kids are at play. The fence must be at least 4-feet in height to prevent kids from climbing over the top without adult supervision
  • As part of their routine child care responsibilities, even if an adult is present with the child, for instance beside them in the swimming pool, it’s important to first rehearse water safety with the child before launching into the pool. Do this by teaching them how to swim in shallow parts of the pool before taking them out into deeper end.

One important rule that parents and child caregivers should adopt is the concept of alternate supervision. When enjoying time out on the water, be it a lake, seaside or a pool, it’s easy for adults to get caught up in the ongoing excitement. This may also occur if the primary water watcher is also tasked with other activity – for instance barbequing or manning the grill to prepare the meals.

This can, at times, distract an adult from their supervisory responsibilities. It’s therefore a good idea to have a designated alternative water watcher who takes over when the primary caregiver is unable to perform their duty.

kids water safety

Basic Principles of Water safety for Kids

While implementing the above tips will help prevent many drowning-related accidents and deaths among children, they won’t eliminate such tragedies from occurring. As an added layer of safety around water, most preschool and school age programs also enforce the following supplementary safety rules:

  • All parents are encouraged to enroll their young kids in professionally instructed swimming lessons. It’s never too early to start, with kids as young as a few months old participating in supervised aquatic events.
  • Teach children that they must ask permission of an adult before they enter a body of water. And they should always enter the water feet-first.
  • Regardless of their age, kids must understand the importance of always swimming with a buddy – ideally, someone more experienced and knowledgeable about safety in the water than themselves.
  • When it comes to safety in the water, there’s one paramount rule that youngsters must understand: Instruct kids to never venture into water – be it a backyard inflatable pool, swimming pools, or rivers or lakes – without proper swimwear.
  • Teach kids to recognize signs of fatigue or tiredness. Stress that if they notice any of those signs, they must immediately come out of the water, irrespective of how shallow the depth is.
  • As part of your water safety instructions to children, make sure they understand the impact that undercurrents, undertow, and hidden underwater forces of nature can have on their safety. Encourage them to stay away from rapidly-moving water, and teach them to avoid uneven surfaces that can sweep them into deeper waters.
  • Insist that older kids always carry their cellphones with them when taking a trip to a waterway. And help them learn what to do to safeguard themselves first, before launching a rescue mission for others: If they can’t reach someone safely, throw them something that floats!
  • Lose-fitting vests, or personal floatation devices meant for older children, can in fact be a safety hazard for younger kids in the water. When it comes to safety-first, therefore, teach them the importance of well-fitted vests and PFDs, and instruct children to only choose swimwear that’s age-appropriate.
  • Water sports are an especially attractive pastime for young kids during the summer. However, excessive humidity and direct exposure to the sun can pose safety risks to children. Insist that they wear appropriate head covering, and that they put on a coating of sunscreen before venturing into the water.
  • Finally, the golden rule of the Safety-First protocol is: Never leave kids unsupervised in and around water – regardless of how short that window is. Children, especially babies and toddlers, can drown in just a few seconds. And, if they survive when submerged underwater even briefly, there’s a danger that they’ll suffer irrecoverable brain injury.

As a final level of protection, Montgomery Child Care centers always encourage designated MCCA staff to receive training in First Aid, CPR and medication administration training[ii]. When on a waterway that’s far from emergency medical facilities – such as ambulance responders or lifeguards – it helps to have at least one adult on scene that knows CPR or is adept in other resuscitation methods. To this end, all kids must be encouraged to acquire these lifesaving skills as early as possible. It could help save a life on the water when there’s no one else to assist another child in distress!

[i] https://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_age/babies-0%E2%80%9312-months/field_risks/water-and-drowning

[ii] https://mccaedu.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Family-Handbook-August-2022-FINAL-1.pdf

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