Teaching your children water safety skills is one of the most important things you can do. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years many public swimming pools needed to close sporadically, meaning some children missed out on learning key safety skills early.
Luckily, it’s never too late to learn how to be safe around water. There are great learn to swim programs available that will teach your child water safety skills. There’s also a lot you can do as a parent to set a good example for your child when you’re around water, and to help your child practise water safety skills on a regular basis.
Before we look at these essential Swimming Survival Skills for Kids, let’s look at why it’s so important that your child and their caregivers understand as much as possible about water safety.
The dangers of water
According to Royal Life Saving Australia’s 2022 National Drowning Report, 17 children aged 0-4 years and 15 children aged 5-14 years tragically drowned in Australia in 2021/22. With the greatest percentage of drownings in each age group occurring in swimming pools, and the majority of drownings resulting from falls into water, it’s essential that children are prepared in the event that they fall into a swimming pool.
For the older 15-25 age group, 36 young people succumbed to drowning, with 50% occurring in rivers and creeks, (33% being as a result of swimming and recreating).
For both young and older children, water safety training is essential. For young children, it’s about preventing kids from entering the water unsupervised, and about helping them stay calm if they find themselves in trouble. For older children and teens who are more confident in water, a focus might be more about appropriate decision making around whether or not to enter the water in the first place.
Beyond taking the usual safety precautions of ensuring constant supervision of children around water, and ensuring adequate pool fencing, here are some essential swim survival skills your kids should learn.
Learn how to safely enter and exit the pool unassisted
Children should learn to be independent when getting in and out of a swimming pool. They should be able to do this without the use of a pool ladder or assistance. After all, it’s quite possible that if your child falls in, there won’t be a ladder within reach, and there may not be anyone with them (though children should ideally receive constant supervision around water).
In case your child were to fall, it’s vital they are able to find the wall of the pool and hold onto it. They should then learn how to safely climb out at the edges of the pool, without the use of a ladder.
Understand the survival basics
If your child falls into water, being prepared to use basic survival skills is essential. The key survival skills should be refreshed regularly so that in an emergency, your child can automatically take the action needed, rather than panicking and forgetting what to do.
Here are 6 key survival skills you can teach your child about:
1. Understand your limitations
Learning to swim is the #1 life saving skill you can have, however even good swimmers (and platypuses) need to respect water. It’s important to only enter water when you have adult supervision, and when you’re at the beach, always swim between the red and yellow flags.
2. Understand how to be rescued
If you fall into a pool accidentally, you can use the monkey walk to hold on tight to the wall and move around the edge to safety. If you’re stuck in deep water, use survival strokes to save energy.
When being rescued, hold on tightly to the object thrown or held out to you. This will allow you to keep your head above water and be pulled to safety.
Remember, never jump in the water to save a friend. Instead ask yourself, ‘can I safely throw them a flotation device or reach them with an object like a pole, rope or towel?’
3. Learn safe entry and exit
When entering the pool, always perform a safety entry. This allows you to slowly lower yourself into the water feet-first, so you can feel for the bottom of the pool or unexpected objects. Remember to always enter the water feet first.
When exiting the pool, use your elbows and knees. This will make it easier to safely climb out.
4. Be ready to signal for help
In an emergency, you can signal for help by raising your arm above your head and shouting ‘help!’. Your raised hand should be closed like a fist so people can see you need help and aren’t just waving hello.
5. Know some survival strokes
Survival strokes are used to help you save energy in the water. When swimming survival sidestroke or survival backstroke, your hands stay under the water, which helps to save energy.
Survival strokes can also be used later in life by advanced swimmers to perform contact and non-contact rescues—allowing the rescuer to tow someone to safety.
6. Learn the stride jump
Safety strides are used in lifesaving situations. They also allow you to enter unfamiliar water, and allow rescuers to keep their face above the surface of the water so they can see and talk to the person being rescued.
A stride jump reduces the chance of hurting yourself as you enter unknown waters.
Learn to stay calm
When a child falls into water, or runs into difficulty whilst swimming, it’s easy for them to panic. Panic is their worst enemy. Consistent swim safety training will enable your child to practise the actions and positions they need to know in order to be safe, like holding their breath, rolling onto their backs, and being able to float whilst waiting for help.
Learning to stay calm in difficult situations is vital in the water. The more practice a child gets, the more likely they will be able to retain clarity in the event of a mishap and take the correct steps, rather than panicking and breathing in water.
Learn to return to the surface
Being able to hold your breath and calmly return to the surface after a fall into water is essential for water survival. It’s all too easy for children to thrash about in the water and exhale all their breath. Holding air in their lungs until they reach the surface again will add to their buoyancy, so practising rising to the surface calmly is an important skill.
Swim 25 metres
Whilst this one may be for slightly more advanced child swimmers, it is useful for a child to be able to swim approximately 25 metres. Having this ability means they can safely reach the support of the edge of the pool without becoming overly exhausted along the way. Naturally, it takes consistent practice to reach this goal, but it is certainly helpful from a water safety point of view.
Essential water safety for parents
Be a role model for your children
One of the most influential factors when it comes to water safety is role-modelling. If you show your children you respect the water and follow water safety advice, they’re more likely to be cautious around water.
If they see you take risks around water, such as swimming in rivers and unpatrolled beaches, they are more likely to follow suit.
So do the right thing around the water, and discuss water safety and how it applies to a variety of locations, like beaches, pools, and rivers.
Constantly supervise your child around water
It’s essential that your eyes are always on your child when they are in the water. If your child is under 10 years old, ensure they are within arm’s reach.
Taking your eyes off your child even for a few seconds when they are around water can be fatal, as drowning can occur so quickly.
So whether or not your child is an experienced swimmer or not, always supervise them, and avoid any distractions like mobile phones. Supervision must be active and constant.
Ensure pool areas are safe
It is every pool owner’s responsibility to ensure their pool is correctly fenced, using pool fencing that meets Australian standards. As a parent, however, you shouldn’t rely solely on pool fencing. You need to always be watching your child around water. Even with the best fencing, mishaps can occur, such as someone leaving a pool safety gate open.
When you’re around a pool with your child, whether it’s a familiar fenced in pool or otherwise, you need to be vigilant, and check the pool area. If you are visiting a home with a pool, always be aware of where your children are, and ensure pool gates remain closed.
CPR is an essential skill for parents and caregivers, as knowing what to do in the event of drowning can make all the difference. Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital recommends that parents or carers do a first aid course to learn infant and child cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in the case of an emergency, and that these skills be updated every three years, and CPR skills annually.