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Parent Connection Guest Columnist

Parent Connection

Guest Columnist - Teri Dalone

Putting the "safe" into Water Safety

Teri Dalone - Aquatic Coordinator, Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation

The statistics are terrifying: in Virginia, drowning is the leading cause of accidental injury death for children ages 1-4, and the sixth leading cause of death for all age groups (Injury and Violence Prevention Program, 2010). To make these statistics even more frightening, know that drowning is called a "silent killer" since the majority of drowning victims are unable to call out for help.

Since there are 59 square miles of water, over 350 public pools and more than 10,000 in-ground backyard pools in Virginia Beach, it's very important for all of us to be safe in and around the water. As parents, that means that we have to be extra vigilant and take simple precautions to ensure the safety of our young ones.

What can you do to reduce the risk of drowning?

Simple, common sense steps can help keep your child -- and you -- safe:

  • Is it safe? It's usually easy to tell if a swimming pool is safe: there's a lifeguard on duty, the water is clear and clean, and required safety equipment is readily available. But how can you tell if a natural body of water, like the beach or a river, is safe? The best way to stay safe is to swim only in designated swimming areas. To swim in natural water in Hampton Roads, you should visit public beaches when lifeguards are on duty. They know which hazards (such as rip currents) might occur and are highly trained to assist swimmers in distress. Don't enter the water if there are red flags posted, as they signal dangerous conditions.
  • Supervise! Never let your child enter the water alone. Little ones can drown in even a small amount of water -- less than a bucketful. If you are watching preschool child in a pool or at the beach, remain no more than an arm's length away. Stay by the tub if your child is bathing. It can take mere seconds for a child to drown, so a dash into the other room to answer the phone can lead to disaster.
  • Buddy up. Urge your child to swim where lifeguards are present, and to always swim with a friend. Teach your child how to call for help in case their friend gets into trouble in the water. Never allow anyone to swim alone -- and set a good example. Don't swim by yourself, even if you do have that rare, peaceful moment when nobody is around!
  • Learn first aid and CPR. It can be a lifesaver, literally, when there are only seconds to act.
  • Take swimming lessons. Learning how to swim can save your life -- and swimming is a great form of exercise! Research has shown that taking swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2012). Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation offers learn-to-swim classes for youth and adults all year long. We also have private lessons, if you really want some one-on-one instruction. Visit your nearest Virginia Beach Recreation Center, call 385-0400, or visit www.vbgov.com/parks for details.
  • Avoid alcohol when near the water. Alcohol impairs balance, coordination, and judgment. The Center for Disease Control reports that alcohol use is involved in about 70% of adolescent and adult water recreation-related deaths (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2012).
  • When boating, wear a lifejacket. Even if you know how to swim, your lifejacket can save your life. Many boating accidents result in someone going overboard -- and a lifejacket will keep your head above water even if you hit your head and become unconscious. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that almost three-fourths of all fatal boating accident victims drowned, and of those, eighty-eight (88) percent were not reported as wearing a life jacket (United States Coast Guard, 2010).
  • Think prevention. It's the simple steps that can make a big difference.
    • Fence a backyard pool with self-closing, self-latching gates. Consider alarms to alert you if someone enters the pool area.
    • Clear the deck of toys and floats when not in use. This can reduce a trip hazard, and may reduce a child's temptation to enter the pool area unsupervised.
    • Use U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejackets instead of inflatables that might get punctured and unexpectedly deflate.
  • There are also a few safety rules that can keep everyone safe, regardless if you are swimming at a beach or a pool:
    • Reach or throw, don't go! If you see someone who needs help, try to extend a broom, a pole or a stick for them to grab. If you can't find something long enough to reach them, toss something that floats, like a cooler. To help your child practice, try an "I spy" type of game when you first arrive at the pool. See if your youngster can name 3 things they can use to reach or throw to someone in need.
    • Feet first, heads up! Never dive into shallow water, or when you can't see the bottom (such as at the beach). Jumping in feet first can reduce the risk of spinal cord injury. Teaching your child to wait for your signal before entering the water is an added level of safety that is easy to introduce. You and your preschooler can count to three before you help her enter the water. Elementary school age children can also use a 1-2-3 count to make sure their friends know they are about to jump in the pool -- and scan to make sure the entry area is clear and safe to enter.
    • Be cool, follow the rule! Know the posted rules (even at the beach), understand warning flags, and always follow the lifeguard's directions. Ask your child to find the posted rules and encourage them to point out one rule they didn't know.

Have I scared you off yet? I hope not, because swimming can be a great way to relax and have fun. A great way to introduce your child to swimming would be through the Mary Helen Thomas Free Learn to Swim Days, for ages 4 to 12. These free swimming lessons are offered throughout Hampton Roads. There's no cost to participate, although you will need to call the hosting facility reserve your child's spot by June 3rd.

Saturday, June 8
10- 11:30 am
11-12:30 pm
12:30 2 pm
12:30 2 pm

Sunday, June 9th
10 - 11:30 am
1 - 2:30 pm
1 - 2:30 pm

Timberlake/Windsor Oak Pool, 933 Windsor Oaks Blvd, Virginia Beach
Portsmouth YMCA, 4900 High Street West, Portsmouth
Seatack Recreation Center, 141 S. Birdneck Road, Virginia Beach
Williams Farm Recreation Center, 5252 Learning Circle, Virginia Beach

Norfolk Community Beach Park, 700 E. Ocean View Ave, Norfolk
Kempsville Recreation Center, 800 Monmouth Lane, Virginia Beach
Princess Anne Recreation Center, 1400 Nimmo Parkway, Virginia Beach



I do hope that you will visit one of the Virginia Beach Recreation Centers. Our staff can help introduce water safety to you and your family, and make sure that your trip to the pool is fun, refreshing and -- above all -- safe.

About the Author

Teri Dalone is a 33-year veteran with the City of Virginia Beach, Department of Parks and Recreation. She oversees the operation of six community recreation center swimming pools and the Therapeutic Services unit. She is certified as an American Red Cross Instructor Trainer in Water Safety and Lifeguard Training and teaches Aquatic Facility Operators through National Recreation and Parks Association.

Works Cited

Injury and Violence Prevention Program. (2010). Drowning Prevention Fact Sheet. Virginia Department of Health.
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2012). Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts. Atlanta: Center for Disease Control.
United States Coast Guard. (2010). Recreational Boating Statistics. Department of Homeland Security (US).

Last Modified on Monday, May 20, 2013