When my three year old couldn’t breathe after getting OUT of the pool last month, I had quite the scare. To get answers on what to do in situations such as my son’s as well as information on secondary drowning, dry drowning and water safety tips in general, I turned to Amanda Kelly, Founder of A Lap Ahead, an American Red Cross Authorized Provider, Swim Instruction and Water Safety Education Provider, to give Breezy Mama the scoop on keeping kids safe this summer.
If a child falls into a pool, what actions should an adult take after pulling the child out?
If when lifted from the water the child coughs, respond by telling them to keep coughing. Our bodies come equipped with safety mechanisms. Coughing implies breathing and consciousness. Wrap them in a warm towel and hug them close to care for shock and fear. Monitor your response as well. Remain calm and minimize any exaggerated negative reaction to avoid transferring unnecessary fear to your child about swimming and the water. Only if they are unconscious and you do not detect a heartbeat should you call 911 and apply CPR.
Should parents be concerned with dry drowning? What is it exactly? What are the signs?
I don’t think so. I’ve only heard of the one instance of the 10 year old boy who dry drowned in South Carolina, June of last year. In his case, it is curious why the media labeled it a case of dry drowning as opposed to secondary drowning, which can also cause death up to 72 hours after exposure to water. Drowning, by definition, is death by suffocation. The victim inhales and fills the lungs with water thereby rendering the lungs ineffective in carrying out their necessary function of supplying oxygen to the body. In the case of the 10 year old South Carolina boy, there were warning signs. The boy soiled himself and complained of being really sleepy following his time in the pool.
What exactly is secondary drowning and what are the symptoms? What should parents do if they see the symptoms? How can it be avoided?
Secondary drowning is death by drowning which occurs up to 72 hours after exposure to water. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, coughing or a change in voice, such as a raspy voice. Changes in overall mood or temperament such as extreme fatigue or a sudden illness may also be present. Parents should be mindful of their child’s experience in the water. If parents suspect their child has inhaled a large amount of water, remove them from the water immediately and monitor them for signs and symptoms of secondary drowning. Listen closely to their breathing. Check for breathing that sounds gurgled or wheezy which may indicate water in the lungs. If you suspect water in the lungs, call or have someone call 911 or your local emergency number for help. The best approach is preventative. Avoid large gulps, big or repeated waves in the face and rough play. Begin swim lessons early. Teach your child to blow bubbles and remove water from the nose by blowing out as though they were blowing their nose into a tissue.
My three year old son was recently pretty rowdy in the pool. All of a sudden, he stood up out of the water and could not catch his breath or breathe at all. It was as though the wind had been knocked out of him, but I knew it was from ingesting too much water. Fortunately (and of course unfortunately), he then threw up–his body was releasing all the water he took in from being rowdy. There was that moment in time, however, where I watched him, again, out of the water, unable to breathe and wondered if I was going to need to do CPR. Since you said, “Only if they are unconscious and you do not detect a heartbeat should you call 911 and apply CPR,” my question is, had his body not gotten the water out (a.k.a. thrown up) and he continued to be unable to catch his breath what steps would I take?
From what you are describing, it was likely a case of conscious choking. To help your child with this condition, get him out of the pool immediately and have him stand with his back to you. Perform the Heimlich maneuver as needed until he throws up and begins coughing and breathing normally again. In this case, the water blocked his airways flooding his system (not his lungs) temporarily inhibiting his ability to breathe normally. Things to do to minimize the risk of conscious choking in the water: First avoid eating especially big meals or drinking soda or other bubbly drinks, things that tend to bloat and make the body feel full, before swimming. These can get in the way of proper breathing while swimming and playing in the water. Parents can educate themselves on life saving skills such as how to perform the Heimlich maneuver by enrolling in a First Aid or CPR course. Again, only perform CPR when the victim is unconscious AND you do not detect a heartbeat.
Many of the drownings that are written about in the news happen to four year old kids. Do you think this is because parents falsely think their child is swim ready?
Yes. I do think parents can overestimate their child’s abilities and level of water safety. There is absolutely no substitute for constant adult supervision particularly if you suspect your child is not water safe. By water safe, I mean can easily float on their back without kicking or paddling and is able to tread water in the deep end for up to a minute. I’ve witnessed a child’s over inflated confidence many times. I’ll complete a lesson and it’ll be time for the child to exit the pool. When the parent arrives, the excitement and over confidence on a job well done will inspire the child to try something new and entirely different from what was covered which they are ultimately not ready for.
What are some other water safety tips you learned while being certified with the Red Cross that you can pass on to parents?
Watch for obstacles to your child’s safety in or around the water. Such obstacles may include: Electrical equipment or lines near or around the pool – remove them; Floatation devices that block your view of your child in the water – remove them; Drains or filtration systems with a heavy suction that could potentially pull your child to the bottom of the pool where they may get stuck while swimming – avoid pools with these types of drains or filters. Install a fence around a backyard swimming pool if you have one. Above all, keep an eye on your child at all times.
I have read that parents should hold off on teaching their child to swim until age 4 because, before that, the child just gets comfortable in the water and thinks they know how to swim, imposing great danger. What is your opinion on this?
I believe the sooner your child begins learning about the water and how to swim, the better. Children regardless of age and ability are attracted to water — the color, shine, movement. Introducing the water and swimming before age 4 helps prepare children for learning to swim on their own. Bath time is a wonderful opportunity for parents to begin water play and activity.
I recommend children begin learning to swim when they appear interested and ready physically. In other words, they have in some way expressed an interest to go in the water and they exhibit the necessary motor skills; namely, crawling, sitting up, standing or walking on their own. Parent and Me group lessons are available to help introduce your child to the water and swimming. Recommended for ages 6 to 24 month olds, the Parent and Me group lessons are a great way to explore the water in a group setting among peers.
What is the best way to get a child comfortable in the water?
Start with where they can stand and sit comfortably such as on a step in a warm pool. If you are going to pick them up and carry them, develop a routine that allows them to return to this safe place often where they are free to explore the water unencumbered. Allow parts of their body to float so they can begin to understand what it means to float. Watch for signs of distress when your child is in the water. Crinkled facial expressions usually mean water in the nose and difficulty breathing. Above all and perhaps most important, have fun with your child in the water and/or during water play time.
On average, how long does it take to teach a child to swim?
I get this question a lot from parents. The truth is you just never know. It really varies from person to person. I have taught a 16 month old in only 12 lessons, twice a week for 6 weeks how to swim the doggie paddle on top of and under the water but I have to say this is extremely rare. On the other end of the spectrum, I have some 4 year olds who are only now beginning to learn the doggie paddle after several lessons spanning two summers. Repeated and consistent exposure to the water is a must. Children learn best with frequency. Time lapses in instruction can inhibit your child’s ability to retain information and/or prolong the duration of swim instruction.
Do you recommend private swim instruction or are group classes just as good?
I recommend private swim instruction over group lessons particularly if your child is new to the water and learning to swim (generally speaking for ages 2 to 4 yrs old). I find a lot more progress is made in a shorter time frame with private swim instruction. I also find children are much more able to relax and learn when they feel safe, that is, all eyes are on them and distractions are minimal. Group lessons are great for older children or for those children who can swim the doggie paddle comfortably on their own and who are therefore ready to begin learning stroke development.
What should parents look for when deciding where their child should take swim lessons?
If you are lucky enough to have or know someone with a backyard swimming pool, I would say start there with a good and qualified CPR, first aid and lifeguard certified swim instructor. Otherwise, I recommend finding a pool close to your residence so you can visit often and regularly. The pool itself should be warm, clean and well maintained, preferably staffed with an attending lifeguard on duty. A large staircase or elongated second step for children to stand on as well as a relatively large shallow end is also highly recommended.
Outside of swim lessons, how can parents help their children learn to be safe and comfortable in the water?
Begin your child’s learning about the water early. Again, bath time is a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn about the water. Taking your child into the bath with you is a good way to get them more submerged and at the same time keep them safe. For older children, I recommend establishing a water play station, preferably a child’s tub or sink that is slightly elevated and contains about two inches of water. These water play stations can provide an opportunity for your child to begin exploring the water from the comforts of dry land.
Any other advice you’d like to pass along?
Children learn from their parents and mirror reactions. If the fear of your child drowning is greater than your excitement and enthusiasm about the water and learning to swim, then your child will most likely inherit that fear. Cultivate an upbeat attitude about the water and learning to swim. Share your child’s interest in the water. Talk to your child about the water and learning to swim. If you yourself do not know how to swim, consider learning. Children who come from homes where parents do not know how to swim generally take longer to learn to swim.
Recognize learning to swim is a process that takes time, patience and perseverance. It also takes courage, strength and flexibility of mind and body.
Choose a good swim instructor. By good swim instructor, I mean one who exhibits patience, nurturance, and guidance. A good swim instructor should be able to explain and demonstrate skills clearly and precisely in a variety of different ways. A good swim instructor should also make learning to swim fun and enjoyable.
Above all, remember good swim instruction beginning at an early age makes for happy swimmers for a lifetime.
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Amanda Kelly is the Founder of A Lap Ahead Swim School and creator of the A Lap Ahead Approach to Teaching Swimming. She is an American Red Cross certified CPR and first aid instructor, lifeguard and long distance swimmer. Her interest in swimming began as a competitive swimmer as a freestyle sprinter. A dancer and yogini, Amanda turned her attention to alternate forms of movement and breathing in the water. She studied with London based swim instructor, Steven Shaw, the Alexander Technique as applied to swimming and currently practices Anusara yoga with Owner/Instructor Anthony Benenati of City Yoga in West Hollywood, CA. Inherent in her approach to teaching swimming is the idea of yoga in the water in which students are instructed to focus on their body and breathing alignment to aid buoyancy and minimize drag. Amanda holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University and has worked extensively as a childcare provider and teacher for over eleven years, five of which have been in the water. Her clientele include international royalty, A-list celebrities and families involved with Resources for Infant Education (RIE).
Breezy Tip: Here are some additional water tips from The Red Cross:
The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim. The Red Cross has swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. To find out where lessons are offered or to enroll in a CPR/AED or first aid course, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
- Swim in a supervised, marked area with a lifeguard present, and swim with others. Never swim alone.
- Enter the water feet first. Enter the water headfirst only when the area is clearly marked for diving and has no obstructions.
- Adults should never leave a child unobserved around water. Practice “reach supervision” by staying within an arm’s length of young children and weak swimmers while they are in and around the pool, lake or ocean.
- Take frequent breaks (about once an hour) where everyone gets out of the water, drinks water, reapplies sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) and rests.
- Watch out for the “dangerous too’s:” too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.
- Post CPR instructions and directions to call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number in the pool area.
- Keep toys away from the pool when it is not in use. Toys can attract young children into the pool.
- If a child is missing, check the pool first. Go to the edge of the pool and scan the entire pool, bottom, and surface, as well as the surrounding pool area.
- If you are swimming in the ocean and get caught in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. Once you are free, turn and swim toward shore. If you can’t swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are free of the rip current and then head toward shore.
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