AUSTIN, Texas — With a month left of the school year, many families may be gearing up for summer vacations out to the beach, lake or getting the backyard prepped for some much-anticipated pool days.
However, it can also be a dangerous time of year if children and parents don't know what they need to about swim safety and drowning prevention.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Texas and Florida were tied (21) for the most drownings in pools or spas involving children younger than 15 from Memorial Day through Labor Day of 2018.
Stats like these are troubling for area doctors like Dr. Carla Laos, who is the medical director for pediatric ER at St. David's Children's Hospital in Austin. She wants to encourage families to learn everything they can about swim safety.
"It's very scary and alarming even if you can do all the things to prepare. You just can't predict the impulsivity of children within this age range of one through four, which is the highest risk," Laos said. "They call drowning a silent killer because it can happen in seconds and you don't always necessarily hear a splash."
For Laos, the topic of swim safety hits close to home, both as a physician and a mother. When she was 4 years old, she herself had a near-drowning experience, but her father was able to pull her out of the pool. Years later, her own child at a family event wandered off and jumped into the pool without permission. However, Laos credits her daughter's early swim lessons that she was able to get out safely and for making all the difference in what could have been a scarier situation.
"You can have all the supervision in the world, but it just takes a second."
Laos said each summer she'll see an average of six to eight hospitalizations for children who had submersion injuries, and at least one death. Even children who do survive can potentially live with life-altering complications.
Ahead of the summer season, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its updated guidelines for drowning prevention. Laos broke down the four main rules for us:
- Secure the area: Try to secure your pool or water area with four-sided barriers if possible.
- Safety devices: Use safety devices like life jackets in the water for young children or those who aren't strong swimmers. If you are going to have your child use a life jacket, make sure it's properly fitted for their size.
- Adult supervision: Make sure to establish supervision by an adult or caregiver.
- Lifeguard supervision: Encourage your children to point out who the lifeguards are and where they're stationed if they need help.
"Water is fun, but it's dangerous and you really shouldn't get anywhere near without mommy or daddy right next to you," Laos said.
At Aqua-Tots in Round Rock, parents have a chance to get in on the fun of teaching swim safety to their little ones.
And when we say "little ones," we mean it. The swim school is opened year-round to swimmers as young as four months old!
"We've got very young kids going underneath the water. They're learning to close their mouths, open their eyes they're learning how to be safe and secure around the water. You really can't start that too soon," said Andy Neillie, owner of Aqua-Tots Central Texas. "The bad news in Texas and a couple of other states in the country is that there's so much access to water. Texas has a real drowning problem."
For babies and toddlers, the classes are taught alongside the parent in the water, like Mary Davenport with her 21-month-old son Emmitt.
The mother and son live off of Lake Buchanan, but make the trip to Round Rock twice a week for their Aqua-Tots lessons. She says not only is it a great lesson in swim safety, but also a bonding experience.
"On our typical swim day, we work on boundaries and just being comfortable with the water, water safety," Davenport said. "He knows how to find the wall to get out of the pool he knows how to roll over onto his back so should he fall in he will be safe."
Davenport said her little one loves the water and is glad that he's able to become familiar with it at such a young age. Emmitt began taking classes at 17 months old. She said she's going to try and encourage more of her other parent friends to enroll their children as well.
"Don't be afraid. I think the lessons are far more valuable taking the risk than having your children out on the water and not knowing."
For more information about swimming lessons or to book a session, click here.
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