Stay water safe while we stay at home
“An accident is when people are so comfortable with their surroundings, they don’t think something like this could happen.” says Shauna Quintero. “And that’s how it happened to me - I was comfortable with my surroundings until they proved me wrong.”
Shauna’s son Christian was just 11 months old, unable to walk, when he crawled through an 8x11” doggy door and made his way to the pool. Shauna, 4 months pregnant, had asked her adolescent son to sit with Christian on the couch for a few minutes. Those few minutes are all it would take. Christian was left with a severe brain injury from the near drowning accident.
“I am sure, without a shadow of a doubt, that if he had ISR skills, that he would be the Christian he was before—he would have survived through that.”
While most of our concerns these days lie in staying home to avoid the spread of Covid-19, keeping our families safe has always been a top priority. Although the advice to “stay at home” has become synonymous with the phrase “safe at home,” this isn’t necessarily the case.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children ages 1 to 4 years old, and the second leading cause of death in children under 14 years old. For every child that fatally drowns, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries. Even in cases where children survive a drowning injury, they are often, like Christian, left with a severe brain injury resulting in long term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning. (1)
These statistics are not written to scare parents, but they are here to exhibit the grim reality of a phenomenon that IS preventable.
Given the current crisis, many parents find themselves navigating a new normal - working from home and homeschooling - all while caring for multiple children of different ages and needs. Kids are looking for things to keep them busy, which unfortunately opens the door for accidents to occur - and let’s face it- the hospital is the last place we want to find ourselves right now.
The good news is that drowning is a particular accident that can be prevented when a multilayered approach is implemented.
Constant eyes on supervision is the best way to prevent a drowning. That said, parents and caregivers are human. It only takes a tiny distraction - answering a phone call; tending to another child; using the bathroom - for a child to slip outside unnoticed. The AAP recommends that children four years and younger never be left alone or in the care of another child while in bathtubs, pools, or spas, or when they are near open water. The AAP further recommends that adults supervise children from within an arm’s length and refrain from distracting activities whenever children are in or around water.(2)
LOCKS & ALARMS on all doors leading to the pool.
4-SIDED FENCE with self-locking gates. Ensure that the pool fence is at least 3-5 feet from the pool edge.
QUALITY SELF-RESCUE® SWIM LESSONS that teach an infant/child to independently roll to a float and wait for help. This layer makes the child their own defense against drowning, and can save a child’s life if all other layers fail.
KNOW CPR. Time is of the essence. In the time it takes for paramedics to arrive, CPR could potentially save a child’s life. Schedule a CPR class today.
In addition to these layers of protection, here are some tips to decrease the likelihood of an aquatic accident:
Remove all pool toys when the pool is not in use and remove furniture by the pool that can be used as a climbing tool for smaller children. Try to remove all temptation of entering the water.
Remove dog doors that can be potentially easy exits for small children.
Designate a water watcher - This can be in 15-minute shifts to ensure that there are always eyes on the water.
Avoid use of flotation devices while swimming, such as arm bands with chest support, vests, bubbles, noodles. While these devices appear to allow a child to navigate the water independently, they give children a false sense of security. They make a child believe that they can swim, when in reality, it is the flotation device that is keeping them above the surface and breathing. In addition to the false sense of security, flotation devices put a child in a vertical posture, which is essentially the same posture of a drowning victim. A young child’s body weight distribution does not allow them to maintain a vertical “tread water” position for even a short period of time, so if they were to fall in without the flotation device, they’d assume this position and struggle to keep their head above water. A majority of parents of drowning victims report that their child had often used flotation devices to navigate the water before the drowning incident.
If a child is missing, CHECK THE POOL FIRST. Seconds count in a drowning accident.
In a perfect world, we supervise our children 24/7, no door is ever left unlocked, and pool fences are never temporarily propped open. It is evident we do not live in that perfect world, which is why quality Self-Rescue® swim lessons are so important when it comes to drowning prevention.
Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Self-Rescue® Swim lessons differ from traditional swim lessons in a few aspects. Traditional lessons for infants and young children typically take a “water acclimation” approach - that is, they introduce children to the water with their parents, and teach them that it is a place to have fun. Teaching a child that water is fun before they know how to survive in it can be detrimental to their safety.
With ISR Self-Rescue® lessons, a highly trained certified instructor teaches one child at a time and educates parents about water safety and drowning prevention. Basic swim instruction is integrated with survival swim training that is developmentally appropriate for young children. This research based method, which was founded nearly 55 years ago, teaches children to survive with the competence and confidence to be safe around the water.
Infants 6 to 12 months learn how to hold their breath underwater, roll to a float, and wait to be rescued. Children one and older who are walking learn to swim a short distance, roll to a float to breathe/rest, and then flip over to continue swimming. They learn to repeat this sequence until they reach a way out of the water. If there is no ledge or steps, they can remain in their float until help arrives. Skills are taught using sensorimotor learning and positive reinforcement. Learning to swim is like any other motor skill, such as crawling, walking, riding a bike. With the proper training and attention to safety, it can be learned and become a part of a child’s muscle memory.
ISR lessons are 10 minutes a day, 5 days per week, for about 6 weeks. The reason for this unique lesson structure is multifaceted. First, repetition and consistency are crucial elements of learning for young children. Research shows that short, more frequent lessons result in higher retention. Second, most children have fairly short attention spans and will not be able to focus on the task for longer and short lessons take advantage of the best time for learning. A third reason is that, though the pool is heated, the temperature is still lower than a child's body temperature. Lessons are work and therefore children lose body heat. Instructors check students regularly for temperature fatigue since this is an indicator of physical fatigue.
Since more than 85% of drownings happen during non-swim times, every ISR student is given the opportunity to practice their survival skills fully clothed. Once a child masters their skills in a swimsuit, the instructor guides them in practicing first in a regular diaper and light summer clothes, and then in heavy winter clothes and shoes. The purpose of this lesson is not to "test" the student, but rather to allow them to experience the effect that the heavy clothing has on performing their skills. Rolling back to a float may take a few seconds longer and require more work in clothing, and we want the child to experience it in a controlled environment for the first time. If heaven forbid they find themselves in this position alone, they will have already had practice and know what to expect.
ISR has delivered more than 8,000,000 safe lessons and has more than 850 documented cases of children using their skills to survive in an aquatic accident.
1. Center for Disease Control. “Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts”
https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html April 28, 2016.
2. Brenner RA. Prevention of drowning in infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2003;112:440–5.
Kristine McCarren is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Instructor. She is the owner of Seal Team Survival Swimming, a proud provider of ISR Self-Rescue Swim Lessons. In 2012, when she saw a picture of her best friend's daughter swimming effortlessly underwater at only eighteen months old, she was simply amazed. Upon researching ISR and learning the astounding drowning statistics, she was determined to bring ISR to Long Island. She completed her training near Orlando, Florida in the Spring of 2013 and since then, has taught over 300 children from Long Island to Connecticut how to Self-Rescue. Alongside Melissa Larsen, who teaches in Hauppauge and Islip, Kristine enjoys educating our local communities about drowning prevention through various events and media outlets. Throughout the years, she has had the pleasure of appearing on the Today Show and ABC NY with several ISR colleagues and students.
Kristine received her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Ithaca College, and later returned to Long Island to graduate from Stony Brook University’s Doctoral of Physical Therapy program. When on dry land, she enjoys spending time with her husband and almost 2 year old daughter, taking trips to new places, and exploring outdoors. Kristine teaches in Port Jefferson Station, Stony Brook, and Eastern Long Island.