With summer just a few months away, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject of ‘water safety’ and the definition of a ‘water safe child.’
The first thing I will say is that there really is no such thing as a water safe child. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Even the most experienced county lifeguards will tell you that there is no such thing as a 100% water safe person – adult or child. This is why swimming alone is never a good idea. It’s always advisable for adults to swim when other adults are present, for children to swim under direct adult supervision at all times and even teenagers (who, bless their hearts, are known for making impulsive decisions that may not be the best for swim safety) shouldn’t be around water without an adult nearby.
That said, I don’t want to sound like a nervous nelly or an alarmist by any means. My children have been in water since infancy and swimming since they were two years old. My sixteen year old can swim with his friends without supervision although I prefer that either myself or my husband is at least home and around just in case they need us. My eight year old is as strong a swimmer as I could possibly hope to have but even he couldn’t be counted on to make a judgment call if faced with a potential drowning hazard, which is why I still prefer to be present and accounted for when he swims with friends.
When I give talks about water safety – which I have been doing for over a fifteen years – I talk about known and unknown variables. A six year old who is alone in his own pool which he knows intimately and has been actively swimming in for several years, is most likely a fairly safe child because these are all known variables and extremely predictable. Once you add any unknown variables into the situation such as two other children, a few floating rafts, some bigger kids who might be rowdier, a different pool, etc…you decrease the level of safety for your child.
The younger the child, the fewer variables that a child can handle. When I’m asked, which I am constantly, at what age is a child really water safe, I typically answer around age 8.
Now this is if the child falls under my description of what that means; for a child to be considered water safe by age 8 he would need to fulfill the following requirements:
9) Able to regulate breathing and to swim in a relaxed manner with no breath holding
I realize that’s a tall order but if we’re talking about real water safety then that prescription is accurate. In order for a child to be water safe, they need to be mentally, physically and emotionally mature enough to handle unexpected variables.
Panic is drowning’s best friend. Keeping calm in a situation takes years of practice and experience to master. What I tell parents all the time is; don’t rush to label your child as water safe. Let them have the luxury of time to figure things out under your watchful gaze before turning over the responsibility to them. Let them enjoy the water without any pressure of having to be safe because ironically, the faster you push them at a young age to ‘be safe’, the less likely they are to actually be safe and the shorter the duration that those safety measures will hold up.
For a child to be truly safe around water, it should come from their exploration and instinct not from an outside force doing it for them. The safest children I’ve ever seen around water are the ones who are the most relaxed and confident without any anxiety.
If you have any questions about water safety or want to enroll your child in swim lessons, please contact a kidSwim Advisor today.