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Canadians love water…much of our recreation, especially in summer months, happens around lakes, rivers, pools, and oceanside.
But when it comes to keeping kids safe near water, some Canadians are not taking enough precautions. Drowning is a leading cause of preventable injury and death in children under age 10. The majority (60 per cent) of child drownings occur during the summer months. On average, 34 children will drown in Canada between the May long weekend and the Labour Day long weekend.
The Canadian Red Cross reports that children between one and four years old drown at twice the rate of children between the ages of 10-14 years. For children under the age of five years, 70 per cent of drowning deaths resulted from unintentional immersion in water. For children aged 5-9, more than one quarter of drownings resulted from unintentional immersion.
The statistics are alarming. However, drowning prevention education with children and parents appears to be having an impact—drowning deaths in children under 17 have been significantly reduced.
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Keep your kids within arm’s reach. Actively supervise kids around water. Parents tend to be less alert when their kids are playing in or near shallow water. But children can drown in very little water (even less than 5cm), and more than 90 per cent of children who die in shallow waters are not with a supervising adult. Young children should be no further than an arm’s length from a responsible adult who has their eyes on them at all times. This means that supervising from the beach or pool deck is not adequate — you must be in the water with them. Children under five should wear lifejackets when playing around or in water, even while being supervised.
Never leave young children alone in the bath, even for a minute. Children under five years of age are especially at-risk in the bathtub —19 per cent of drowning deaths for this age group happen in the bathtub. Ignore the phone or doorbell when your child is in the tub. If you must answer, take your child with you. Never leave young children unattended in a bathtub. Drowning can happen in less than a minute.
Remove or cover water containers. Empty all tubs, buckets, containers and kiddie pools immediately after use, and store them upside down so they don’t collect rain. Keep toilet lids closed.
Wear approved life jackets when boating — it’s the law. Almost all Canadian parents (98 per cent) believe children must wear a life jacket when on a boat, yet the majority of children who drown while boating are not wearing one and, in many cases, there are not even life jackets onboard. Model safe behaviour by wearing your own life jacket.
Water wings, bathing suits with flotation devices in them, inflatable wings and other swim playthings are toys—they are not safety devices.
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Enroll your child in swimming lessons. The Canadian Lifesaving Society views swimming skills as life skills that all kids should learn. It defines the minimum skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into deep water as a skill sequence that includes:
- ROLL into deep water
- TREAD water for one minute
- SWIM 50 metres
The Red Cross offers lessons for children as young as four months. Check with your local community centre to see who offers programs in your area.
Swimming lessons are not a substitute for supervision. Research from the Canadian Paediatric Society states there is no evidence that swimming lessons prevent drownings or near-drownings for children under the age of five, and that no young child can ever be considered water safe.
Learn CPR and Child First Aid. Knowing what to do in an emergency could save a life and, when it comes to drowning, doing something is always better than doing nothing. Many community groups, including the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, provide this training.
Fence in your pool. Backyard pools are the number one place where children under five years of age are most likely to drown. They account for one-third of water-related deaths for this age group.
Pools should be fenced on all four sides, fencing should be a minimum of 1.2 metres high, and should have self-closing and self-latching gates that are latched from the inside. The gate latch should be above the reach of children and be locked when not in use. Check your municipal codes for specific fencing and gate requirements.