Even parents who pride themselves on practicing water safety may not understand how actual drowning looks. They’ve read articles, enrolled their kids in swimming lessons, and are always nearby when their offspring are in the water. The surprising truth is that parents can be looking directly at a drowning child and not know it.
Television shows and movies are partly to blame for the public’s mistaken view of drowning. Swimmers in trouble may flail and yell, but that only happens when they are in distress and not when they are actually drowning. People who are about to die in the water will be in the throes of instinctive drowning response, a physiological condition which robs them of the ability to speak, wave their arms, or kick their feet. Because they don’t appear to be frightened or struggling, people watching them may not realize the danger until the person sinks beneath the water.
Drowning happens very quickly once the victims do go beneath the surface. Parents who do not recognize the signs of instinctive drowning response may be too late to save their loved ones or summon help for them. This tragedy can occur even when parents consider themselves well-informed and prepared.
Parents who follow the “arm’s length” rule for their small children can prevent drowning accidents. If they or another adult can reach out and touch the children, they can’t drown. For older children, swimming safety is more complicated, but lessons help as well as the use of proper safety equipment. Parents should never depend on floating devices that are just for fun but that can’t really keep their children afloat.
Parents can help keep their children safe by taking CPR and rescue classes and by investing in rescue equipment, such as a shepherd’s hook. No safety measure takes the place of close supervision; however, so an adult needs to be watching children swim at all times.
Drowning is usually a quick and silent affair, so parents need to know the real signs of drowning. Children who are silent with their arms extended and their mouths bobbing just under and above the surface are probably drowning. Adults need to take immediate action to prevent a tragedy.