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We see it on the news, read about it in the papers, we’ve heard stories from neighbors or friends or God forbid it has happened to one of us—the fact is childhood drowning does happen. It happens so often that fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related deaths for children ages one to 14 years (CDC 2005). It happens so often that an estimated 5,000 children ages one to four are hospitalized due to unintentional drowning-related incidents each year. Fifteen percent don’t make it and 20 percent of those who do suffer severe, permanent neurological disability (National Safety Council). Want to know the most shocking statistic of them all? Of all preschoolers who drown, 70 percent of them are in the care of both parents at the time of the drowning and 75 percent are missing from sight for five minutes or less.

It literally can happen in the blink of an eye, and I know from personal experience.

I live in Hawaii, where the weather invites water play on a daily basis. From the day my son’s umbilical cord fell off he was in the water with us and has been alongside us while surfing, sailing, swimming, poolside and while relaxing on the beach. We live and breathe water and so does our son. Our son has also fallen in the pool more times than I can count, and while we have been lucky and have always been within an arms reach, it became apparent very early on that we needed to do our research, educate ourselves, prepare our home and our environment and most importantly prepare our son for the what if’s.

So we asked ourselves, what does being water safe mean?

The first step was educating ourselves about the risk factors and according to the CDC there are many:

  • Lack of swimming ability
  • Lack of barriers
  • Lack of close supervision
  • Location (the younger the individual, the higher the risk of drowning happening at home, the older the individual the higher the risk for natural water sources like rivers, oceans, lakes)
  • Failure to wear life jackets
  • Alcohol use

Looking at this list, we realized there were several things we could be pro-active about and reduce our son’s chance of encountering a situation that could be life threatening. Starting from the top we began to research different swimming programs for infants and young children. After much research and testimony from friends we settled on the ISR method.

The ISR method has been around for 45 years and is a hands-on, one-on-one instruction technique that has been researched and developed to offer a proven system for safely teaching children the skills needed to confidently enjoy time in the water, while also learning skills to keep them safe. The ISR method has been called out by many stating that it is too rigorous for young children, even damaging to their self confidence and trust in their caregivers. While I respect these opinions, I personally do not agree.

For me, going through the lessons with my son was at times a struggle, as is learning any new skill; however, I was 100 percent confident in our instructor’s ability, compassion and skills. My son is 18 months old and is able to fall in a pool, swim to the surface, float on his back for as long as he needs, turn back to swimming and repeat the process until he is able to get help or even crawl out of the pool by himself. I am confident that if he ever fell in the pool and we weren’t there to immediately assist him, he would be able to handle the situation. As the statistics state, most children are missing for less than five minutes and I’ve seen my son repeatedly float on his own for longer. I believe in the ISR program because I have a child that has gone through it. Knowing he has these skills in his back pocket gives me confidence that we have yet another tool in our safety net. Even better, ISR is prepared to instruct children as young as six months—I’ve seen it work.


ISR’s Roll-Back-to-Float Sequence from Infant Swimming Resource on Vimeo.

Here is my son and I practicing what we learned from ISR:

The next step was looking at barriers. We live a block from the ocean, a block from a canal and at grandma and grandpa’s house there is a large pool in the backyard. We’ve done extensive baby proofing at both homes to ensure all locks are above baby height to make sure he can’t get outside without adult supervision. Regarding the pool we are still researching the best alarm system and are also considering a pool gate.

I encourage anyone who has a pool or water source close their home to get down and crawl at your child’s level in every area of your home and look for a way outside. Can they move a chair to a window? Reach a doorknob without a safety latch? Can they use a prop to crawl over a pool gate? Do they know how to remove a pool alarm? When you’re done with water play remember to take all toys and floats out of the pool and lock up after yourself. So many stories are out there about parents who had closely supervised their children by the pool, had finished playing, went inside only to find their child back out at the pool not quite ready to be done. Children are clever, are keen observers and can outsmart us even in the name of safety’s sake. With that being said, children will still get out, children will still fall in pools, and that is why swimming lessons are so important!

Next up is supervision. It’s no one and everyone’s fault when an accident occurs. It’s called an accident for a reason—things happen even when we’ve taken every measure to ensure the worst won’t occur. The first time my son fell in the pool he was surrounded by about six adults chatting around the hot tub. He was happily playing with a large umbrella, walking around the base when he suddenly changed directions and fell straight into the hot tub. We were right there, watching him play within an arm’s reach and still he fell. It just goes to show that even with supervision things can happen in the blink of an eye—turn your back and be prepared to jump in after your little one. Take an oath and make anyone else around your pool or home do the same, “when water is accessible to children my number number-one focus is on them.” Designate a child to each adult and never let them out of your sight.

Be familiar with your water risks. Know where the closest pool is, what the tides are doing at the beach, how deep the lake is. If you’re on vacation, check with the locals and ask about the beaches, the swimming holes, etc. Be prepared with life jackets that are CoastGuard approved if out on the lake or on a boat. Make sure your child is used to wearing a life jacket and that it’s comfortable.

When my son was five months old we went on a 10-day sailing trip to the Caribbean. We bought the highest-rated Coast Guard approved life jacket and didn’t put it on him until we hit the water. He hated it. He refused to wear it and I’ll admit we didn’t make him wear it. We thought we were prepared, but learned we had only done half the work. Learn from our mistake—if you’re child isn’t used to their life jacket, if it doesn’t fit right or is uncomfortable, they will make wearing it a living hell for you both. Research your options, try it on, add it to their dress-up clothes, get them familiar and accustomed to it and USE IT and USE IT PROPERLY (those leg straps are there for a reason, and without it your child can slip right through)!

Alcohol use is a no-brainer around the pool. It really isn’t safe for any of us and our alertness, responsive time and guard is all down when we’re drinking. Save the cocktails for when the kids aren’t around or at least keep the drinking to a minimum. Again, assigning a point person responsible for each child around the pool means you are responsible 100 percent of the time for the safety of that child. Filling your beer at the keg or fussing with a bottle opener can be the two seconds that it takes for a child to fall in. That’s a sure-fire way to kill your buzz.

Finally, I would encourage any parent, caregiver, uncle, aunt, anyone with little ones around to learn Basic CPR. Seconds count in emergencies, especially water emergencies, and knowing what to do and how to respond can and will save a life. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you will take the time to consider water safety for your own family. I understand that everyone has different comfort levels and exposure to the water but we all have a responsibility to keep our children safe no matter what. Do your research. Get prepared and spread the news. Water safety is for everyone!

Today’s post was written by Heather of where she writes about life as a surfer, mama of one and living on the island of Oahu.