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How to Handle Water Worries

How to Handle Water Worries

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Updated on Jul 15, 2010

Let’s face it: the statistics around water safety are scary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 14.

How much worrying is the right amount when it comes to water safety?

“Ideally, whether the subject is water safety or anything else, it helps to calm down, gather information, and make clear decisions based on facts, not emotions,” says renowned psychologist and author Harriet Lerner.

Cecilia Duer, Executive Director of the National Water Safety Congress, says it’s a good idea for parents to determine which of them will be the “guardian” at a pool or any other body of water—which parent will be responsible for watching which child.

Duer says the National Water Safety Congress is a huge proponent of swimming lessons and a huge proponent of putting life jackets on children—these are different, she says, than water wings. “Take the extra step and put them in a life jacket. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no level of protection that is too much,” Duer says. “If you do turn away from a child for a moment, you’ve got all of these layers of protection to prevent a drowning.”

Here are some additional water safety guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control:

SUPERVISION
Designate a responsible adult to watch young children while in the bath and all children swimming or playing in or around water. Supervisors of preschool children should provide “touch supervision,” be close enough to reach the child at all times. Adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity (such as reading, playing cards, talking on the phone, or mowing the lawn) while supervising children.

BUDDY SYSTEM
Always swim with a buddy. Select swimming sites that have lifeguards whenever possible.

AVOID ALCOHOL
Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.

LEARN TO SWIM
Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning. However, constant, careful supervision and barriers such as pool fencing are necessary even when children have completed swimming classes.

LEARN CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION (CPR)
In the time it might take for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could make a difference in someone’s life. CPR performed by bystanders has been shown to improve outcomes in drowning victims.

DO NOT USE AIR-FILLED OR FOAM TOYS
Do not use air-filled or foam toys, such as “water wings,” “noodles,” or inner-tubes, in place of life jackets (personal flotation devices). These toys are not designed to keep swimmers safe.

Children With Water Worries

Worrying about water safety isn’t a problem for parents alone. Many children have a fear of water that causes them to sit along the side of the pool when everyone else is happily playing.

Lerner says the concept of respecting a person’s anxiety applies to children as well as adults. “It doesn’t help to push a child into the water, or into anything else for that matter,” she says. “Many sensitive and fearful children grow out of it on their own, and it helps to under-react not over-react to a child’s fears.”

What does under-reacting look like when it comes to a child with a fear of water?

Lerner suggests that it helps to keep the lines of communication open—to ask calm and clear questions about the child’s fear:

  • “What’s scary about the water?”
  • “What do you think can happen to you in the water?”
  • “Is their any way I can help you to feel okay in the water?”
  • “Would it help you if I carried you into the water?”
  • “If you put foot in water would you be scared?”
  • “If you touched the water with your fingers would you be scared?”

Lerner explains that calmly opening the conversation is not the same as communicating that your child is letting you down, or that it is some kind of failure if he or she won’t get in the pool.

Visit the National Water Safety Congress, the CDC, and Safe Kids for more information on water safety and drowning prevention.

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