As a child, I never appreciated that old cliché, “Silence is golden.” I thought silence was boring, and preferred music, or the sounds of my friends chatting away.
When I became a parent, I understood.
If I put the baby to bed with a full tummy and clean pajamas, the silence meant my job was done right. Now that my kids are tween and teen-aged, the silence as they eat huge amounts of food means they like what I cooked. And the sound of silence as they do homework, without a TV, iPod, or video game in the background, means I’m doing what I can to make sure they learn.
In my job, teaching drowning prevention for Phoenix Children’s Hospital, I tell parents silence is bad.
We’ve all felt that horrible feeling of your stomach dropping, as if you were on a roller coaster, when you realize you haven’t heard the toddler for too long. Did she find your new lipstick in your purse and draw all over the walls? Did she tear up the jigsaw puzzle her brother was working hard to put together? Did she go out the back door to the pool?
You can’t hear what you can’t hear. When it comes to child drownings, parents need to know that a child can slip into the water in nearly complete silence, and may not splash or call for help. It’s frightening, but you don’t have to be afraid. You can make a plan.
When you are swimming as a family, push away all the distractions. Be the designated “Water Watcher” and stay within touch distance of your children. The laundry and phone calls and grocery list can wait. Take turns supervising, and only ask adults who are sober and able to swim to be the Water Watcher.
When you finish swimming and come in the house, know where your children are, but keep barriers like pool fences, door locks, and door chimes in place. These devices can buy you the time that you need, if there is a lapse in supervision, to keep them safe.
Know when you are at your best, and when you are most distracted. If you’re writing a presentation for your boss and stressed about getting it done, ask a sitter to come for a few hours.
Teach your children to swim at the appropriate age, but know that they should never swim alone. They may use their skills in an emergency, but they may not. And keep your CPR skills sharp, because it’s your last line of defense, and I have met parents and children who were saved with it.
Every child drowning is preventable. Already this year, a 16-month-old boy lost his life in an unfenced pool. Last year altogether, 17 children lost their lives in the Valley of the Sun.
It doesn’t have to happen to any child, and you can prevent it from happening to yours.
For more information about how to prevent child drownings, visit www.phoenixchildrens.com.
• Tiffaney Isaacson is the water safety coordinator for Water Watchers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. You can reach her at (602) 546-1712.