After trying on her new swim suit a couple of days ago, my recently-turned two-year-old told me she was going to go swimming at her grandparents’ house. Her grandparents have a backyard pool, and my daughter said she wanted to go swimming now, even though it was 40 degrees outside. The conversation with my daughter got me thinking about how much she enjoys the water, how comfortable she feels in the water, and the fact that she has her own plans to be in the water. Before this conversation with my daughter, I didn’t realize she acknowledged the pool or had any personal initiative about swimming. I was struck with the need to reinforce to my daughter that she not make any plans on her own to go swimming. It became clear to me that I need to instill some clear guidelines for water safety, even when we are not near the water.
Water safety is something that should be discussed not only around water or during the summer months; it should be discussed year round. We don’t wait until a child is around fire to teach fire safety. In the same way, we should not wait until a child is around water to teach proper water safety. The best method for teaching young children memorable and doable water safety rules, is to keep the rules simple and consistent.
Three simple water safety rules to discuss with your child when near and away from the water are:
Children are drawn to water, especially if they feel familiar or overly confident with it. Frequently drowning occurs when a child ventures into water alone, especially if there are toys or intriguing objects in the water. In the same way we teach children to wash their hands before eating to avoid getting sick, we can teach children the process of preparing to get into the water. Make putting on swim suits a fun activity to get prepared for the water. Try to make the process you have for getting dressed for the pool as consistent as possible. If you get changed at the pool, have a favorite location in the locker room. If you get dressed at home, have a ritual of you and your child putting swim suits on. The more a child recognizes that a swim suit is key to being in the water, the greater the barrier to that child venturing in the water unprepared.
2. You can’t swim unless an adult is specifically watching you
This rule is beneficial for children and adults as well. If there are a lot of people at the pool or beach, or there is a lifeguard on duty, it can be tempting for a child to feel confident about going into the water. Children don’t drown only when they are swimming alone. Children drown while swimming in crowded pools or while dozens of adults are sitting around the pool. Children need individual attention while swimming, and they need to know that they need that attention. Lifeguards should be an extra set of eyes on your child, not the only pair of eyes.
3. You must ask permission before entering the water
Make your child aware that it is his or her responsibility to check to see if everyone is ready for swimming. Whether you are getting in the water with your child, or whether you are sitting on the pool deck, make it part of the ritual that your child ask permission before getting into the water. Children are accustomed to asking permission before using something or doing something. It will not be hard for your child to learn that getting into water is something that has to be approved before doing. This rule sets up another barrier for children from going into the water without any supervision, and it gives adults a reminder prompt to be vigilant while a child is in the water.
Whether it is the heat of the summer and water is a daily encounter, or whether it is the middle of winter and you are daydreaming with your child about the days of swimming in the warm sun, always remind your child of the three pool rules. Every season is the right season for teaching your kids about water safety.