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  • Selena Willows

What to do if your child is drowning.

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

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No one wants to think about this happening to their child but if we know what drowning looks like

then we can intervene before it's too late.

Please remember when reading this that I am referring to saving a child not a teen or adult. Even a pre-teen can overpower a trained lifeguard when in distress so use caution and know your abilities.

You recognize the signs, you know your child is in trouble but what can you do? What options do you have? A child who is drowning will NOT look at you, swim towards you, catch an item in front of them that floats or respond to their name being called in any way so what are your options?

1- CALL EMERGENCY SERVICES - If a child is drowning the first thing that needs to be done is calling for help. Especially if the child is no longer actively drowning but is face down or at the bottom of the pool. Even if you think it's not necessary it is always best to have a professional look over the child after such an incident to ensure a trip to the hospital is not necessary. I will be writing about secondary drowning in the next few weeks but even equipped with that information it is important to use caution and a medical professional will be better able to advise you on the child's specific situation and risks for further complications due to the incident.

2- Find an item around the pool that can help you - Most pools have items that can be thrown to a person in distress like a ring buoy or a pool noodle. Unfortunately once a person is actively drowning this no longer works and children seldom grab onto an item even when in distress which happens before they are actively drowning. Once a person is actively drowning they will need more help than that but you may want to have it with you as you go in to get them. In the event that you are already in the pool DO NOT GO GET a floatation device unless the child may be able to overpower you. Please keep in mind that a person drowning will be so much stronger than anticipated due to the adrenaline pumping through their bodies - think mom lifting a car off a child to save them.

3- Go get that child if it is safe to do so - Assess the situation before going in. Can your child overpower you? Are there other people around in case something goes awry? Did someone call emergency services? Is there something amiss like an electrical wire in the pool? If your child is face down or at the bottom of the pool there is much less danger to you as your child has already fallen unconscious and are not likely to wake up and overpower you. If you feel confident in your ability to swim to your child and carry them back to the side go in. If not, get help. If your child is actively drowning and you feel confident in your strength as a swimmer get to them as quickly as possible and lift them up out of the water. This is of course easier said than done. If your child is in an area of the pool where you can reach it becomes quite easy to do this. If you cannot reach the bottom strongly consider whether or not you have the ability to get you both to safety. If you are confident then go in but remember....

A child who is actively drowning will fight you.

A child who is actively drowning will try to climb up you and may push you down as a result.

A child who is actively drowning will not be able to hear you or follow instruction.

4- Take charge once you reach your child - A child who is actively drowning may be difficult to grab on to. They will be thrashing in the water and it may be hard to get a grip on them. Approach from behind if necessary. A lifeguard is trained to approach a drowning victim from behind so as not to get grabbed onto or pushed/pulled under. Once you have approached your child grab them under the arms and lift them up so their face stays out of the water. The higher up you lift them the calmer they will become as they realize that the danger is passing.

5- Get to the side - Swimming while carrying someone can be tricky and so I encourage everyone to practice this with a calm child in tow. To swim with a child lay back as if to float and hold your child with one arm wrapping it from behind your child over their arm below the shoulder but above the elbow and use your hand to support their head. Now you can swim with your child lying on your chest using your legs and one free arm. Alternatively you can slide each of your arms under your child's arms and hold their head above water with a hand on each side of their face and swim on your back using just your legs.

BONUS - practice number five while doing an eggbeater kick if you can. To learn the eggbeater watch this and start by practicing sitting on your kitchen counter or another high space. If the eggbeater kick proves to be too difficult - it does require a lot of coordination - a whip kick - here - or a flutter kick - here - will do the job but with more difficulty and effort on your part.

Don't miss my next post on recognizing the signs of secondary drowning. Sign up to our mailing list to find out as soon as new information and articles are released.

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