When the twins were about three years old, we took them for a swimming class at an indoor public pool. It didn’t go very well. They were nervous about taking a class with a stranger and there were many other groups and classes happening at the same time. We decided to take them out and wait until they were just a little older. As we talked to one of the swim teachers about the next classes opening up next season, the twins began walking around us. We were right beside the wading pool for toddlers. One of my little ones decided to walk to the stairs…and keep walking. He walked right into the water.
When they say drowning is a silent killer this is why: as he walked into the water and continued to walk as the water covered his face, he didn’t make a sound. We were all there, the lifeguard sprung into action, and we took him out right away. But had we been too distracted in the conversation or had the lifeguard been helping another toddler in the pool, I shutter to think what would have happened.
I’m sharing this story now, years later, so that it may help even one person. We were in an environment with trained professionals, and this happened. Imagine how easy it can be then, when we are distracted or unprepared around a pool or in a lake?
Last week, there was another tragedy in a public pool, bringing Quebec’s number of water-related deaths to over 30 this year (with much more summer to go). In 2020, greatly due to the pandemic, the number totaled 95, compared to 58 in 2019. After reading more about the reasons behind the jump in numbers, it has been determined that many people during the pandemic were staying close to home, discovering bodies of water they perhaps were not familiar with, to stay cool. That, coupled with swimming lessons being shut down for almost a year, and the tragedies increased.
Back when I wrote about pool safety years ago, I discovered that Quebec holds the largest number per capita of backyard pools in all of Canada, according to the Royal Lifesaving Society. We are very, very lucky to be one of those families and we love our pool. But as we know, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Here are a few considerations if your family is heading to a body of water this summer.
Remove distractions – want to catch up on your emails or text a friend while you are watching your children in the pool? Sounds like a perfect time, but the reality is screen time is a major distraction from supervising your children in the pool. Distracted supervision is not supervision. When my husband and I work from home, we take turns to watch our boys in the pool. This way, one of us always has our eyes on the water.
Limit water time – It may seem like a form of punishment to tell your kids to get out of the pool sometimes, but hear me out. Children who love swimming will never want to get out of the water, even if they are tired. Our solution is to make time for the pool, switch to another land activity and then go back to the pool after if they wish. It will give everyone a little break to recoup if they want to swim again.
Find the right water activities – I can still remember as a kid, my sister and I would play “tea party” by sitting on the bottom of the pool and holding our breath. I know!! My mother must have lost her mind when we did this. Granted we were older and knew when to come up for air, but it wasn’t the smartest game. This tip really needs to be gauged on your child’s age and level of swimming. Little ones with floatation devices can play with a beach ball, even bath toys in the pool, while older kids love diving in for these weighted toys in a game of catch.
Swimming lessons – it goes without saying, swimming lessons are essential for children and adults that want to be in water. My sister and I took swimming lessons up to lifeguarding and got our lifeguarding certificate. While we never used this certificate to lifeguard at a public pool, we had it and we felt good in the knowledge that we were trained for various situations and emergencies. Consider giving that option to your older children. It can give them a great sense of pride in this success and the prerequisite for a potential summer job.
Find a good floaty for your young child – young children in floaties need a parent with them at all times. Some floaters are better than others. Our favourite was this floater that helped our boys learn to swim forward and now parents are raving about this safety floater for babies. If you do have a pool party, make it a requirement that all young children wear a flotation device. It’s a good idea to always have extra floaters on hand for such an occasion.
Pool Safety – Aside from supervision, all pools in Quebec are being evaluated to meet the safety standards, especially the now required gate around the pool. When we moved in our home, the previous owners did not have a gate around their pool. That was our first investment, with three children under three there was no way we were going to have an ungated pool. What is important to remember (myself included) is to close and lock the gate when adults are not present outside. It only takes a few seconds for children to make a curious/bad choice and open a gate near a pool then they are alone.
Non-alcoholic drinks around the pool – If you are the parent on pool duty, opt for the virgin summer cocktail. This also applies for going on a boat ride, going on a kayak, anything that requires you to be alert and in a body of water.
Learn CPR – If you are a parent, and if you are ever requested to take care of a child, learn CPR. There are many centers that offer workshops. When I couldn’t find one that fit my schedule, I organized for a CPR instructor to come to my home and had friends and family attend. Grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as other friends with kids are great people to invite for the workshop.
Never swim alone – As adults, we tend to not think about it the same way, but swimming alone is never good for anyone at any age. In fact, after very young children, young adults (ages 20-34), mainly men, are the next bracket of highest water-related fatalities. Think of fishing alone or going for a dip in a stream you’re not familiar with…it’s best to always be with another adult.
Wear a life jacket for other water activities – See anything wrong with this picture? These parents are not wearing a life jacket. And while it may be great place a life jacket on your children, wearing yourself shows them just how important it is for everyone. When it comes to a sudden change in weather, a strong current you weren’t expecting or a massive wave from another boat, anything can happen when you are in a body of water. If you should ever run into an emergency, the number to call on your cell phone is *16 – it connects you to the nearest Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre.
Set the rules early and be consistent – let your children know what is allowed and not allowed in the pool and pool area. I can still hear my parents saying to us, “don’t run around the pool” as we played Marco Polo. And now, I’m saying the same to my boys. With children, the important thing is to repeat, repeat, repeat.