Getting babies used to the water is fun. It’s also the very beginning of a survival skill for six-month-old Claudia. Her father nearly drowned as a child.
“I was about four and I walked off of a pier in a lake,” said Chip McElearny.
He wants his little girl to learn water skills early. Research has shown tots who took swim classes were less likely to drown. Why? For one thing parents of those kids are more vigilant around water.
“That’s exciting news and important news that all children should learn how to swim. That’s a really important lifetime skill,” said Elizabeth Bennett, drowning prevention specialist with Seattle Children’s.
Even so, Bennett said parents shouldn’t let down their guard. Most young children drown during a momentary lapse in supervision.
“They might have been at a picnic and wandered away. They were playing near the water and they’re gone. And then the parent goes to look for them and they’re in the water,” said Bennett.
She said don’t count on hearing your child in trouble. Drowning is both quick and quiet. That’s exactly what Chip McElearny remembers.
“I just went in and went to the bottom. I remember looking around and that was about it. I was unconscious. And next thing Ii knew I was being pumped water out of, on the beach,” he said.
Coast Guard approved life vests add a layer of protection, but not water wings. Bennett said they give a false sense of security. A child’s best protection is you.
“When you have a really young child, that means touch supervision, that means arm’s length that you can touch and reach your child,” said Bennett.
A back stroke can be a lifesaver for older kids. And a homemade rescue device can pull a swimmer in trouble back to shore - all ways to make summer safer for kids.
Bennett said the best advice for kids big and small: always swim where there are lifeguards on duty.