Water safety tips for families of tweens

Water safety tips for families of tweens

With Memorial Day over and the end of the school year in sight for many of us (if not already here), our focus has shifted to summer fun. That most often involves swimming and water, but just because our kids are older doesn't mean that we parents can completely let down our guard.

My friend Caitlin Giles is all over what families with older kids can do to keep kids safe around the water, so I asked her to share her wisdom in a guest post as May is Drowning Prevention and Awareness Month. Here are her water safety tips for families of tweens.


Over Memorial Day weekend, we visited my husband’s parents who live outside of Pittsburgh. They have a backyard pool and this is alway the highlight of the trip for my six, nine and eleven year-old kiddos. When my kids were younger, I worried constantly about the pool on our visits. I fretted about the kids wandering away from adults and accidentally falling in. Or jumping in too close to the edge and hitting their heads. Although we have had many fun times at this pool, it has also been a focus of many “mommy worries” over the years.

In the past two years, my kids have taken lessons at Goldfish Swim School and their swimming skills have come a long way. My oldest two advanced to the Goldfish Recreational Swim Team and my six year-old is basically part fish. He is frankly the best swimmer in the group (but don’t tell the two older ones that).

Because of the fact that my kids have had quite a bit of swim instruction, I have to confess that I have grown more relaxed around my in law’s backyard pool in recent years. Where I once feared accidents and felt that I needed to constantly be in the water in the event one of them fatigued or needed an extra push getting to the wall, I now often watch them swim from a poolside lounge chair. I know that my kids can swim independently and I just don’t worry about water safety like I once did. One of the benefits of kids getting older, I guess.

However, the truth is that just because my kids have had swimming lessons doesn’t mean that they are automatically water safe. I may not have the same concerns that I did when my kids were toddlers, but I this weekend as I watched my swimmers in the pool, I was reminded of the fact that I definitely still need to be mindful of some basic water safety guidelines -- regardless of the age of my kids.

May is recognized as National Water Safety and Drowning Prevention Month across the country. As we officially head into beach and pool season, this is a great time for families to think about the importance of water safety. After all, the months ahead will likely bring pool parties, beach excursions and lots of other water-related fun.

Here are some stats about drowning that I think every parent should know:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of injury death to children ages 1 to 4 and the second leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 14.
  • A child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, in as little time as 20 seconds.
  • In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study that concluded that children who are enrolled in formal swimming lessons have an 88% reduced risk of drowning.
  • Most drownings occur in May, June, July and August.

So what do parents of older kids need to keep in mind when it comes to water safety? Even if your kids have had swim lessons and lots of experience in the pool, there are still some key safety precautions every family should know about.

  • When kids are swimming (particularly in a party or group setting), designate a “water watcher” who will avoid cell phones, iPads, books, magazines and anything else that might distract the adult from watching swimming children EVERY SINGLE SECOND. After all, most children who drown are supervised. Rotate frequently so no one person gets too burned out. No one should ever swim alone, no matter what their age.
  • Get swim lessons for yourself or any other caregiver who cannot swim or is afraid of water. Not only will your water fears rub off on your children, but by not knowing how to swim, you are eliminating a person with the ability to save a child’s life were an accident to occur.
  • When you are at a public beach or pool, notify a supervisor if a lifeguard is distracted from doing his or her job. Speak up if a lifeguard sits at a station more than 30 minutes. They need to rotate to stay alert and eliminate complacency.
  • Know that floaties, noodles and plastic inner tubes do NOT protect against drowning. They are created as water toys, not life-saving devices. Any life jackets you use should be designated as U.S. Coast Guard-approved.
  • Be prepared in the event that an accident does occur. Take first-aid and CPR because every second counts in an emergency situation.
  • Get your kids enrolled in swim lessons if they don’t have basic water safety skills (yes, even if they are older). The evidence is clear that swim lessons reduce the risk of drowning. This is serious stuff and as your child gets older, they are more likely to be around water when you might not be present (say on a trip to the beach with friends). Swimming in essential life skill and you want to be confident that your child has mastered it. If you are in the Chicago area, Goldfish Swim School offers classes for kids up through age twelve. Chicago-area locations include: Roscoe Village, Burr Ridge, St. Charles, Naperville, Evanston, Mundelein (opening June 2015) and Plainfield (opening August 2015).
  • Do your kids know what to do in a swimming emergency? Their first instinct may be to go toward a person having trouble in the water. Instead, the best approach is to teach kids to throw a life preserver to someone in trouble — and DON’T GO! That way, they aren’t putting themselves in jeopardy as well and are truly able to help.
  • Finally, always stay humble around water -- whether you are an adult or a kid. Have fun of course, but be aware and prepared at the same time!

Caitlin Murray Giles is a Chicago mother of three and the blogger behind the ChicagoNow blog Wee Windy City.

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