Teach children these general rules for keeping safe around water:
Water Safety Rule #1: Staying Observant
Remind children to be observant of their surroundings when they swim, and to speak up about anything unusual. In one tragic example that attests to the importance of this rule, a 3-year-old girl managed to drown in a pool full of other kids and adults. Nobody seemed to take notice that she was floating face down in the water. (ABC News Phoenix, 5-17-08) In many drownings, other children will notice the victim, but aren’t quite sure what’s going on and won’t say anything. Those precious few minutes or even seconds can make the difference between reviving a child and having to bury one. So…
A) Teach your child the signs that someone is in trouble in the water. If they see someone who 1) Is splashing a lot but doesn’t look like they’re having fun, 2) Is floating face down in the water, 3) Is at the bottom of the pool but not moving, or underwater but not swimming/moving, or 4) Seems to be bobbing up and down in the water and looks like they need a breath; then you should scream for help and get an adult immediately. Tell them when in doubt, it’s OK to freak out; no adult will punish them for trying to garner help if they think someone is drowning.
B) Whenever you go to the pool or to the lake, play games that will train children to be more observant. Play ‘I spy’ using the patterns on the swimsuits of other kids, or other such descriptors. (“I spy with my little eye someone with a pink flower on her chest; someone with blue eyes and blond hair,” etc.) Or at random intervals, have them count how many kids are around them in the immediate vicinity. (Make this more interesting by giving a small reward later, such as a skittle for every child counted.) Play a game where at random times you tell a child to stop and close her eyes. Then ask a question about another child in the pool: Is the girl with the pink Barbie bikini in front of you, behind you, to the left or to the right? Give them a small prize every time they get it right. This game, especially, teaches kids to be observant.
This information may not seem like a big deal, but we could prevent dozens or even hundreds of drowning deaths each year if every parent did this with their kids. Children will often walk right by a child who is underwater at the bottom, simply because they don’t seem to equate that with a kid who is in trouble, but rather, just a kid who is playing at the bottom of the pool. And if all kids paid better attention to their surroundings and knew the warning signs for drowning, this could also play a role. Child safety tragedies are most often a case of near misses stacked on top of each other, and a little extra training to get as many little eyes watching out for children who may be struggling in the water could go a long way.
Water Safety Rule #2: Watch Little Kids Around Water
Teach older kids (any child over the age of four or five) how important it is to help keep an eye on younger kids around the water. Tell them about some of the stories in our How Children Drown subheading. Kids are great at trying to be protective older brothers and sisters (or just protective older kids in general) when you give them the information, and there isn’t a parent in the world who wouldn’t benefit from having an extra set of eyes and ears who know how dangerous water can be to little ones. Explain that since parents sometimes get distracted, bigger kids need to help keep an eye out for little ones and keep them away from danger.
Water Safety Rule #3: Never play in floodwaters
Teach children to never, ever play in or around floodwaters, which can be extremely dangerous. Not only is the water often moving fast and uncontrollably, but it’s in places it shouldn’t be, which can mean hidden debris, underwater whirlpools or suction areas created from flooded drain pipes or manholes, and even the potential for electrocution from soaked electrical lines. There are many deaths each year because children attempt to explore floodwaters and find themselves swept away by a current that is stronger than they realize.
Water Safety Rule #4: Don’t chase toys into a river
Teach children that they should never chase a toy into a river, stream, or lake. Rather, tell them to call an adult to help retrieve it. Tell them that they should treat rivers just like a busy street with constant cars. Just as you wouldn’t chase a ball into a busy street, if you chase a toy into heavy current, you could be swept away.
Water Safety Rule #5: Reach first
Teach children that if a friend is in trouble or struggling in the water, reach, don’t go. Grab a stick or even a twig and extend it to the person, or take off your jacket/shirt or your jeans and use them to reach the person. Call for help while you’re doing this. If a friend is struggling in the water, you might also drown by trying to jump in to save them. The exception to this rule is if you are already in the water or it happens in a pool.
Resources to teach kids about water Safety:
- Be Cautious Around Water coloring page
- Family Water Fun coloring page
- Rowing out too far
- Young Kids Safety coloring page
- Flood Water Safety coloring page
- Water is Powerful coloring page
Water Safety printable book
A Fun and entertaining children’s book that teaches kids some basic principles on water safety. Recommended for kids ages 4-10.
Additional Water Safety Resources
Read your children our safety book, My Water Safety Rules designed for preschool and elementary school kids