Summers are exciting for families: babies experience new sensations for the first time, toddlers have the perfectly flexible medium to splash their energy around, children have more opportunities to test their limits and parents want to have a chance to relax. Water is life-giving, but the summer craze and the water’s currents & muddied secrets make it potentially life-taking as well. Little Steps tackled this serious subject with parents and experts Yvonne Heavyside, a paediatric CPR & First Aid expert from The Family Zone and Vincent Alarcon, American Red Cross Lifeguard and long-time water safety instructor from ESF Sports. Many general, overlapping precautions and safety tips came up, and it’s worth noting that everything you read will be helpful in saving adults as well. Here are Vinnie’s and Yvonne’s pieces of wisdom forged from years of practical experience in eliminating and navigating these nightmare situations.
Dangers: When it comes to babies, any body of water—sinks, buckets, toilets too—can be a threat, let alone baths and pools, which babies don’t perceive as huge bulks of liquid they can’t just crawl onto. Parents are usually pretty paranoid in the very beginning, but they may loosen the grip around 6 months when the little fella can sit on its own & splash real good. The baby can’t get up on its own, and it always takes seconds for disasters to happen. Never turn away, anything can wait for attention except your perfect slippery baby!
Tips: babies still have gag reflexes (instinctively know not to breathe) from pregnancy at 4 months old, and this is an incredible time for them to get back into the water. Parents are taught how to continue the lessons themselves. Vinnie mentions our Hong Kong pool guide, so take a look here—and look with all this info in mind!
Myths: Babies usually love water and only cry at first because it’s a new environment and they are expressing themselves. They may also scream if the water is too cold (this is very important as babies can easily get hypothermia, always mind the temperature). Vinnie shares that there are crying choirs when the lessons are beginning because of the change in sensations, but the same song is sung when the course is finished. Pro tip: blow in your kid's face to train them to close their eyes, and then do the same before you submerge them to prepare them for the new experience.
Dangers: Toddlers are zippy, unbelievably agile balls of energy, which is not the best on slippery surfaces. They are also overconfident, fearless, competitive! They cannot predict tiredness or estimate their abilities accurately, so they may swim far to prove themselves, only to find that they do not have the strength to go back.
Tips: A life-saving water safety move is to teach your toddler flip on their back and float! Another thing that came up is how you may want to reconsider leaving toys in the pool. Toddlers will get that urge to go grab them. Water is fascinating enough to their fresh, curious brains even without colorful, soft, airy things that stay up when we humans go down.
Myths: Don’t rely on floaties. They can easily flip over, give you a false sense of security and are easily taken over by the moody currents. And do not use life jackets as swimming aids. It’s far better to teach kids how to swim. It’s bonding, fun and life-changing! Do not rely on guards either—they are only human. Your kid is your responsibility and the most precious piece of your reality, so keep an eye on them at all times. A tablet, book, phone or any other distraction could disappear and you would only be mildly upset; your kiddo or them getting hurt is the biggest deal there is.
Dangers: Children can become amazing swimmers and feel like they are merkids who manoeuvre in water better than they do on land. This is where the competitiveness and the peer pressures kick rarely good, especially in water. Explain that underwater games are an absolute no-go, as well as showing off. Diving into unknown waters of any kind, for example off of junks is a Russian roulette. The waters are not crystal clear and could be hiding a rock formation or simply be more shallow than appears. Teenagers may even be drinking, thus reducing their rationalization abilities further. The same, of course, happens to parents under the influence. They may become overconfident in their kids in those occasions as well and loosen their focus.
Tips: Kids quickly become independent humans led by their own motivations. Everything listed above under general tips and precautions applies, but there is something we haven't mentioned. Siblings might have the most heartbreakingly loving urge to jump to save their drowning or otherwise struggling brother or sister or friend, but this could backfire tragically. Those who are drowning, especially if they are scared in water, will instinctively do everything they can to get to the surface, including pushing their helper under. Teach kids of all ages to call an adult or use a floaty or a noodle instead of diving to the rescue.
Myths: When children (and others, too) drown, it's usually quick and quiet, not loud and splashy as you might expect. Sadly, they mostly just slip under, especially if they are not good swimmers. This is why it’s important to keep an eye on them, always. Even if you fully trust them, but don’t trust their unpredictable surroundings.
1. TRAVELING - KNOW THE RIGHT EMERGENCY CONTACT INFO: Always know the local emergency number when traveling. Nannies and caretakers, take note! Collect important contact info and put it up on the fridge, for example. Ideally, learn it in Chinese, too, or at the very least give it intentionally clearly in case f emergency. It might save someone’s life as catastrophes are matters of seconds, and numbers get easily miscommunicated.
2. FOLLOW THE RULES: Pools and fun areas with tempting bodies of water have rules of conduct that are there for good reasons. Never run around the pools, never. Always avoid drains and their suction. Always be careful when getting onto a junk. Never, ever jump onto the boat from a jetty or vice versa. Kids of all ages should be explained why the rules are in place and what the potentially dire consequences of breaking them are. Most kids will respond positively to explanations, as opposed to intimidations or unexemplified instructions.
3. LEARN TO SWIM: Notably here, many domestic helpers and nannies cannot swim, and there are programs to fix this and teach them CPR, first aid and swimming, of course!
4. MIND LIFE JACKETS: If you’re on a ferry, try to find out where the kid-sized life jackets are. Kids would go right through the adult ones, but the smaller ones are often tucked away inconveniently. It’s very important to know how to put them correctly on as well. You can even buy your own!
5. CHECK FOR AED: You can ask about a defibrillator, or AED, which most pools and other public areas have. There are detailed instructions often actually told to you by the device, so just stay calm. If there isn't a pediatric AED at the pool or public place where you are, put one pad in the front and the other in the back—they can be large and they shouldn’t touch.
6. IF THE WORST HAPPENS: If something does go wrong, Vinnie and Yvonne have this action list for you:
1. Scene safety: check the scene for other potential dangers on the scene to avoid getting hurt, too
2. Pull out the child
3. Check for responsiveness: talk to them, tap them. If they are not responsive check chest movements, if they are not breathing or are breathing abnormally, you need to delegate tasks like calling 999 among bystanders—tell someone to call an ambulance and make sure it was really done.
4. Ask for a defibrillator, follow the detailed instructions and give CPR. And don’t give up easily, keep calm and keep pumping. There was a case of a baby suffering from cold water drowning and being saved from any brain damage or harm, but only after 2 hours of CPR. Hope is real! Also, Yvonne suggests watching Vinnie Jones’ hands-only CPR video, which will probably make you remember the basics pretty vividly and not be afraid to try to help.
7. AFTER CPR/OTHER STATES: After your successful CPR, the child will vomit water, so you should turn them on the side and always take them to the hospital (even if they seem completely fine)! they will be kept for observation for 24 hours to ensure they are safe from other, much rarer water-related states, such as secondary and dry drowning which occur when the water enters through the nose and mouth. Underwater blackouts, caused by disturbing the oxygen flow to the brain through a combination of physical activity and holding breath, and cold water drowning or hypothermia.