In hot and humid Singapore, heading to the pool or water park is many a family’s favourite pastime. But do you know how to keep your child safe?
WORDS CHERYLENE RENEE
In Singapore’s endless summer, one of the best ways to beat the heat is to take a refreshing dip. It’s no surprise then that many a Singaporean family’s favourite pastime is to hit the water together, whether it’s at swimming pools, water parks, or any of Singapore’s coastal beaches. It’s certainly very rejuvenating amidst the tropical heat, but do you really know how to keep your children safe while they’re in the water? Motherhood speaks to swim schools to find out some essential swim safety tips, and what you should look out for when you’re on a family day out at the pool, water park, or beach.
1. Always be Vigilant
There are many factors to consider when your child is swimming.
The first, and most important, is that you should always keep
your attention closely fixed on your little one. Your child should ideally
be no further than an arm’s length away from you.
Tan Jian Yong, chief executive officer of Happy Fish Swim School, emphasises the importance of supervision, as “drowning is a silent killer.” Shawn Chua, aquatic director at Able Aquatic School, adds, “Always be vigilant, and keep an eye on your little one. Even if you need to go to the washroom, bring them along.” He adds that shallow, ankle-deep water is all it takes to drown a baby or toddler, and that constant supervision is required when children play in the water. “There is no age limit where you can leave your children unattended without supervision. Even an adult can drown when they do not know how to swim. It’s best to always have a parent/guardian around,” warns Chua.
2. Conditioning Your Little One
In the off chance that they wander away, however, your children should already be armed with water safety techniques – which can save their life in the event of an emergency. And it all starts when your child is just a few days old. Kristen Romain, founder of Swish Swim School, advises that parents can start “conditioning” infants from their very first bath. “Put water on their cheeks, get their ears wet, and don’t fret if water goes into their eyes and they don’t like it,” says Romain. “[Help] your little one to float on the back with assistance,” adds Tan. “As floating is the foundation to learning how to swim, the earlier they discover the wonders of buoyancy, the faster they will become water babies.” Committing to these tiny steps on a regular basis will help your little ones feel comfortable with water, and will also desensitise any water-related fears that they might develop when they get older.
3. Never Too Early, Never Too Late
Once your child is at least four months old (or, as Tan recommends, only when they have strong neck control), consider enrolling your child in a swim school. Undertaking swimming lessons will not only give your child a confidence boost in the water but will also ensure that they are equipped with the proper know-hows when it comes to being safe in the water. Even if your child is a little older, that’s okay too – no child is ever too old to start learning how to handle themselves in water, and to swim. Romain advises that it’s important for parents to continually provide praise and encouragement and that you should never “give up on them learning to swim.”
4. Always Tell an Adult
Your little one might be bursting with excitement when you get to the water park, pool, or beach, but remind them that they should absolutely never enter the water alone. Have them practise the habit of always informing an adult if they would like to go swimming. If you’re at a swimming pool or water park (where there isn’t a sloping entry, like at the beach), monitor their movements and ensure that they enter and exit the pool slowly and safely.
5. Using Floats
Your children are splashing about in the water, and you might be tempted to toss them a float. It’s a common misconception that floats are the best way to help your child learn how to swim. Tan says that float boards are acceptable, as these can help your little ones balance in water while they’re still in the early stages of learning. However, as Tan explains, the truth of the matter is that floats – neck floats and arm bands in particular – actually “hinder swimming progress”. These types of floats put children in an undesirable vertical position, which can become a hard habit to correct in the long run. Romain advises that if you must use a float, select one that keeps children in the ‘prone’ position (where your child is belly down, back up). “[Choose] a vest, or a ‘puddle jumper’ with arm bands, but a piece across the chest. Never have them in armbands that just hold them upright.” Floats are meant to be used as an aid, says Romain, but not to be relied on.
6. Learning to Float
Learning how to swim is a gradual process, and one of the key milestones is figuring out how to float in water. Some children (and even adults) feel nervous when they’re unable to feel the sand or ground beneath their feet. With enough trips to the pool and several lessons from swim professionals, your child can discover their buoyancy and learn how to correctly tread water. As Tan puts it, “floating is the basis of learning to swim.” This skill is nothing short of imperative, as it teaches your little ones to feel comfortable in the water. In the event of emergencies, staying afloat is also a crucial survival skill. Chua adds that anyone experiencing any trouble should “try and keep [themselves] afloat, and breathe when necessary till help arrives.”
7. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
The risks involved while swimming in open water (such as at the beach or in a lagoon) differ from that of being in a pool or water park. When you’re having a day out at the latter, always be aware of the depths of the pools your children are in – unless they’re older, and confident swimmers, stick to shallower pools. Also, take note of how crowded the pools are – when there’s not enough room, it’s that much easier for your child to be accidentally shoved or dragged underwater. Opt for one that’s less busy if you can. The open seas, on the other hand, bring with it a totally different set of things to watch out for – changes in tide levels, sudden currents (both above and below the water’s surface), and the sea floor itself (which may have sharp rocks, dangerous animals hidden from sight, like a poisonous sea urchin, or an uneven sea floor that slopes off suddenly). “Take note of the signages available and try to stay near the shallow part of the sea where adults can stand,” Tan advises.
8. Nip Bad Habits at the Bud
“Some key essentials in swim safety include building independence in the child, and also to establish a common understanding of the limitations and boundaries in the water,” says Tan.
Be quick to correct your children when you notice them displaying bad behaviour in the water. Discourage them from swimming under floating platforms, running around the edge of the pool, or from sniffing underwater (if they’re still not sure how to hold their breath correctly).
Tan adds, “Most importantly, children have to develop a respect for the water.” Swimming and water activities are undoubtedly fun, but your child must understand that water must also be held with much regard.
9. Be Mindful of Other Children
If you’re at a crowded pool, or if your child makes new friends at the beach, be sure to monitor not just your child’s actions, but the actions of those around him as well. Romain advises, “Make a conscious choice to move away from crazy and irresponsible friends who might be doing bomb dives, or [those who] might try to hold them under.” She adds that parents should be ever mindful of other children or people who might coax them into performing feats that are “beyond their own ability level.”
1O. Drink Lots of Water
Ensure that your children drink plenty of fluids if they’re about to spend lots of time swimming. It’s incredibly easy to find yourself dehydrated if you’re spending a few hours in the sun, and especially so if you are a kid who is constantly active and sweating buckets. Having insufficient water could lead to dizziness or lightheadedness – which may lead to nasty situations when you’re out swimming.
11. Don’t Panic
If your child shows signs of drowning, you should never panic. Compose yourself and focus on rescue instead. Impart to your child the importance of remaining calm as well – panicking is the most dangerous thing you or your child can do in a crisis. “[Panicking] is as dangerous as not knowing how to swim. All swim skills fall by the wayside and can be useless when panic sets in,” says Romain. Swimming lessons are a great way to prepare children “to engage their swim skills under any circumstance,” Romain adds.
12. Enjoy Those Precious Moments
“Some kids have been conditioned to fear water by having carers (parents, grandparents, or others) yelling “be careful” every time they venture near water,” says Romain, who points out that this is one thing that parents should avoid doing. She adds, “Teach them respect, but also teach them that they can learn to have fun in the water.” After all, swimming is a beautiful activity and sport, and offers a great opportunity for much-needed family time. Tan quips, “Swim together, and enjoy the precious one-to-one bonding time with your little one.”