The Worst 20 Seconds of Your Life …

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The thought of my children drowning is an image in my head that has haunted me ever since I became a mum, that and being hit by a car.  I don’t know what it is about drowning in particular but I feel like I live with a quiet anxiety at all times with the reality that it can happen to anyone, including my kids.

I grew up in a family who did a lot of swimming.  We had swimming lessons from a very young age, we were in swimming clubs all of our childhood and we competed competitively.  Growing up we had family who lived at the Sunshine Coast so we often found ourselves at the beach. When I was a young teenager I was catching waves with my older sister one day and on this particular day a wave had crashed directly in the middle of my spine while I was attempting to catch it.  Luckily my sister was right beside me as it paralysed me momentary and I was face down in the water unable to move to get some air.

Luckily we were close to the shore so she was able to pull me to the shore and turn me over so I could breath.  I was completely in my right mind I just had no control of my body for a short period of time.  I can’t remember how long it took for me to get movement back.  From memory not very long however to this day I will never forget those few moments lying face down in the water unable to save myself as a capable teenager.  It’s scary and it made me realise that no matter how good a swimmer I thought I was, even as an adult, anything can happen when you are around water and we are never fully safe.

Fast forward 20 years to having my own kids and I am even more aware how true this is.  This summer Australia has experienced one of the worst on record when it comes to pool drownings and the numbers are too high and heart breaking. I say this knowing that this could have been one of my kids due to things I was doing that I had no idea were putting my kids at major risk.

The Royal Life Saving Society reached out to us recently asking for our help to speak to parents about the dangers of how easily our children can drown and to hear real stories of how quickly it can happen.

I recently posted a question on the School Mum Facebook page asking mums to share if they have ever had a close call with one of their children in a pool or know someone who has?

We are all aware of the risk of drowning but until you hear real stories from people you are connected with and how easily it can actually happen it becomes a whole lot more real.  I was blown away by the bravery of these mums to share their stories and be honest about what had happened to them.  I am so grateful they did because truth be told, despite my stress and awareness that my kids could drown I was guilty of most of the distractions other mothers had shared that either didn’t end well or was a very close call.

There were a few key takeaways I learnt which have since changed my behaviour when it comes to kids and drowning …

  1. It can take as little as 20 seconds for a child to drown. Are you hearing me??  20 seconds!!  So popping off to get a glass of water or answer the phone, go to the loo or even help another child who has hurt themselves elsewhere is all it takes.
  2. Even though your child is a good swimmer it doesn’t mean they can save themselves when drowning. There were quite a number of stories shared by mums who knew their children were good swimmers yet found themselves in a situation in a pool where they needed saving.  What the parents didn’t know at the time was when in a drowning situation where their child slipped, swallowed too much water or became very fatigued their child froze, became overwhelmed and did not have the capacity to act logically and save themselves.  Panic set in and within 10 seconds if an adult had not intervened it could have ended badly.
  3. Drowning is silent. Over and over again there were stories of parents who were standing right there talking to the person beside them, as we all often do if we were to be honest, and didn’t hear a thing.  It was often an older child in the pool who noticed the child drowning.  If you think about the fact that all it can take is 20 seconds, then it is possible for your child to drown while you are right there supervising.
  4. Pools are not the only thing that poses a risk to your child drowning. There were a number of stories of bath water being left in the bath, buckets of water around the house, melted ice which had turned into water in eskies, small paddling pools in the backyard, fish ponds and the list goes on.  All it takes is 3cm of water for a child to drown.
    <Insert Portable Pools Video>

  1. Teach your child to call for help rather than try and save the child drowning themselves. There were a number of stories from parents where one of their children tried to save the other and they both ended up going under.  The biggest factor in this scenario was the depth of water the children were in.  When it involved the deep end where neither child could touch the bottom this is when became very difficult for both children.
  2. Drowning doesn’t only happen when no one is around. There were so many stories of up to 10 adults being present and supervising however in the hustle and bustle of catching up when we get together with family and friends it is often easy to miss. At some point someone will notice but again 20 seconds is all it can take and that really is a short period of time.
  3. Put your phones and books away. Parents can be with their children in the pool by themselves and will often have their phone or a book with them as something to do while they watch.  The problem is that they end up watching their phone or reading their book rather than actively supervising their kids and as I have said before and I will say again all it takes is 20 seconds.
  4. Adult to children ratio. A number of stories were shared by mums who went swimming with 2-3 of their children on their own.  Even though they were in the water with their kids there were situations where they got distracted by one child and didn’t notice the other child had slipped into the water behind them (because drowning is silent).
  5. Get in the pool. As annoying as it is as a parent to have to get your togs on and get in the pool when you are tired and need a break and are happy to sit by and watch if you have a child under 5 or older children that are not confident swimmers then you need to get in the pool. You are much more aware of where your children are and what is going on when you are in the pool.  You are distracted by them rather than the things happening outside of the pool.  If something was to happen you are right there and it can be a matter of 20 seconds which isn’t long.
  6. Floatation devices can be as dangerous as they can be useful. As great as floatation devices are for kids to make sure they don’t sink there were also a number of stories of when they go wrong.  Just because your child has some floaties or a life vest on doesn’t meant they are safe and don’t need as stringent supervision.  
  7. Your older children are not responsible for your younger children. It is never ok to ask an older sibling or child to watch a younger child in the pool ever.  Despite how capable that child is of swimming it is extremely unfair to put the weight of that responsibility onto a child when it is an adult responsibility.  Children at not capable of dealing with extreme situations like adults and if anything was to happen they would live with that for the rest of their life.
  8. Talk to your children about water and pool safety. It is very important that you educate your children about pool safety. There have been many stories in the past of children drowning due to older siblings leaving the pool gate open when going into or out of the pool.  This is not a onetime conversation.  I speak to my 2 daughters regularly about the pool and their younger brother and what they need to be mindful of.
  9. Drowning can cause delayed health issues. Some people referred to ‘secondary drowning’ or ‘near drowning’ which is used to describe someone who has a drowning incident who survives, however experiences illness or death hours or even days after being in the water, usually as a result of taking in or swallowing water. Drowning incidents where the person survived are now referred to as non-fatal drowning. It’s important if your child is submerged or swallows water that they are carefully monitored for: persistent coughing, breathing difficulties, like gasping or even choking, foam or froth in the mouth. This is known as respiratory distress. It is very important to get medical help immediately as people can deteriorate quickly and without warning.
  10. Supervise your older children who can swim. This is what I am most guilty of when I read stories of other parents. We have a 9 and 6 year old who are both very good swimmers.  At times I have left them in the pool while I have popped away momentarily to get something.  To date this hasn’t been an issue however after reading some of the stories shared in the Facebook post I have been really challenged by how careless I have been.  Just because your child is a good swimmer doesn’t mean they won’t hit their head and become unconscious face down in the pool and their other sibling will try and help them and find themselves drowning as well because they don’t have the skills to save them.  It also doesn’t mean your children won’t be riding on each other’s back up and down the pool and one gets exhausted and starts sinking and then they both panic and lose all ability to think clearly and end up pulling each other down.

The key to prevent children from drowning is to always keep watch. Giving all of your attention all of the time. Put the phone away, don’t quickly pop inside to get a drink or do other household chores whilst the kids are in the pool. Masterchef, Matt Preston warned parents just how costly those distractions can be. You can check it out here … 

The Royal Life Saving Society suggest six key components for active supervision:

  • Be Prepared – Always make sure you have everything ready when going swimming e.g. towels, dry clothes etc.
  • Be Close – Always be within arm’s reach of your child.
  • All Of Your Attention – Focus all of your attention on your child and watch, talk and play with them when they are in the water.
  • All Of The Time – You should never leave your child alone in the water, nor should they be left in the care of an older child.
  • Take your child with you if you leave the swimming pool area.
  • Setting up rules and boundaries for children are essential to their safety.

I have been so personally challenged writing this post as I realise that even though I have a lot of anxiety around my children drowning and think about it often I have been guilty of putting them in situations due to lack of supervision where this could have happened.

I am walking away from writing this post upping my game when it comes to my kids and water safety.

I want to say a massive thankyou to the Royal Life Saving Society for sponsoring this post and encouraging us to share our stories so we can help educate each other on the dangers of pools and how to best keep our kids safe.

Happy swimming 🙂

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Being a mum to 3 kids (one of them full time at home with me) and trying to juggle everything became pretty crazy.

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