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Swimming Safely with a Family

Submitted by kim on Thu, 06/21/2012 - 20:00 in Parenting

There are some activities, like house cleaning day, when having a large family is a real blessing. And then there are other activities, like swim day, when having a large family not only makes the task harder, but can sometimes even be dangerous.

I took my son and niece swimming this week and was immediately reminded of swim days with littles in tow.  Our family started getting pool passes when our youngest was born. We went to the pool often, at least three afternoons a week.  Between those parenting experiences and being a lifeguard for six years, I have some strong feelings on mixing children and water.  

A few tips on swimming safely with a large family:

1. Schedule lots of time. Being in a hurry only adds tension to a situation that can already be filled with excitement and stress for both parents and children. This applies to leaving the pool too.  Pull the kids from the water well in advance of when you want to be walking out the gate.  Tired, sun-soaked swimmers need extra time to do everything.

2. Arrive at the pool with sunscreen applied.  The natural tendency for little ones is to head immediately to the water.  Much safer to line everyone up in the kitchen and put the sunscreen on at home than tempt eager little swimmers at pool's edge.

3. Use approved life-jackets. If you have more than one in the "must watch constantly" stage, buckle them up. Put life-jackets on after you get out of the car, but before you walk through the pool gate.  Even the most obedient children have their moments.  Don't find yourself having to chose between two small children floundering underwater in different areas of the pool.  

4. Do not use swim assistant devices or toys in place of life jackets.  Water wings, kick boards, and noodles do not replace the security of a properly fitted and belted life jacket.  I've done CPR on a child whose mother thought water wings would cut it. PLEASE don't make the same mistake.

5. Provide shade and safety for infants.  A baby tent provides shelter from the sun and enclosed safety from water's edge.  A friend recently shared that using a blow up children's swimming pool on the beach provided a controlled area for their baby to splash in few inches of water without fear of her crawling into deeper areas. The pool was also used dry with toys. 

6. Follow pool or beach guidelines about leaving children unsupervised.  If they are under the age on the sign, supervise them at all times. 

7. Use swim day to practice being a team. If the age spread of your children means significant variation in swim abilities, take turns visiting different areas of the pool as a group.  Little ones can sit on the side and watch older siblings go off the diving boards.  A rest from the deep end to play in the children's area is good for more advanced swimmers. Bottom line, mom or dad can't be everywhere, so everyone has to give a little. 

8. Take breaks. Drink water. If anyone gets a headache they come tell you about, pull everyone out and get home.The symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, muscle cramps, weakness, sweating, and nausea.  Remember it takes a long time to get a large crew out of the water, dried, to the car, buckled in car seats, and all the reverse once you arrive home.  Don't take a chance that things will improve with time.

9. Get help. If you have a lot of littles, go swimming when dad can come.  A good friend planned summer meals, naps, and later bedtimes so their family could swim in the evenings with dad.  Consider hiring a young teen to go along on your pool outings.  Offer to pay his/her admission fee and allow them to stay to hang out with friends after your family leaves. Or hire a sitter to stay home with the youngest so you can enjoy the outing with the older children.

10. Go often.  Children thrive on routine and consistency. They learn by doing something over and over again. If pool day is hard and draining, it's a sign you need to go more frequently so the children learn what is expected.  Practice makes perfect.  Before long, swimming will be enjoyable for everyone!