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Do You Know What A Drowning Person Looks Like?

As your family and friends jump in the water this summer for wet fun, make sure you know what to look for to keep them safe.

Do You Know What A Drowning Person Looks Like?

This week I’m using “The Mom Voice” and asking Parent Chat readers to stop and really consider a topic that could save a life, and maybe that of your loved ones: drowning prevention.

Aside from a few strange weather blips this month (really...nearly 100 degrees one day, and barely 70 degrees the next?!) summer is officially here, and it’s primetime for water fun at pools, beaches, and lakes.

As you head out for water play this summer, review how you are handling water safety in your home, especially if you own a pool and/or spa, as well as when visiting other destinations involving water with your family and friends.

Just try keeping kids out of the water. My kids jump in the barest of a puddle with glee. But water can be a real danger to children as well, especially if not treated with a healthy respect that requires constant vigilance.

The World Health Organization reports that drowning is among the top three causes of unintentional death in most of the countries around the world. In the U.S., it is the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1-4, according to the Centers for Disease Control; and, in 10 states, including California, it is the number one cause of death for children under the age of 14.

Many local parents rightly tackle this safety issue early, and kids begin swimming lessons early in life, and many join one of the many local swim teams.

As a result, parents may feel that drowning is not a risk to their kids, whom they consider to be “water-safe.”

But advocates with the National Downing Prevention Alliance caution against having a false sense of security, and remind parents and caregivers that ALL kids need to be supervised in the water, at ALL times. (For a great pool safety video from the NDPA, click here.)

Consider that the Orange County Fire Authority in California found that of the toddlers who drowned in that county, 70 percent were in the care of one or both of their parents at the time of the drowning, and 75 percent had been missing for less than five minutes.

Drowning can happen in less than one minute and you may not even notice it is happening, unless you are looking for the signs—and they may not be signs you have been conditioned to expect.

A water safety campaign widely circulated via Facebook has been educating people about what the “instinctive drowning response” really looks like, which can be contrary to many fictionalized depictions, which often show people yelling for help, and/or waving their arms to signal their distress. People in danger of drowning, or in "distress" may well do those things, but for people that are in the final stages of drowning, they may barely register any attention. In fact, often they are mistaken for playing in the water, or actively dog-paddling.

The campaign aims to dispel those myths about what drowning looks like. For the full details on what the instinctive drowning response looks like and what to look for, invest a moment and visit Mario Vittone’s website and read his post, “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.”

Vittone is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, and is a driving force in the campaign to better educate the public about drowning prevention and water safety.

Also be sure to view the embedded video in this story about a real drowning in progress caught on tape (and ultimately averted, thankfully).

It is critical that you spread the word, and encourage anyone who cares for your kids in your absence, such as babysitters, nannies, family members, or parents in the homes where your child spends time in the water to learn what to look for. It’s also a good idea to encourage your older teens to learn this information as well.

Have a safe summer!

Additional resources for safety information: 

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