Fort Worth, Texas,

What your children should do if they see someone drowning

Kids should only offer help from outside the water and here’s how

Drowning is quick. Safe Kids Worldwide estimates you may have less than a minute to react once a child begins to struggle in a pool.

And yet, one in three parents surveyed has left their child at pool for two to three minutes without supervision.

You may have seen movies of someone drowning and splashing in the water and making a big, dramatic scene. But that’s only in the movies.

Drowning is a silent killer. In reality there’s very little splashing, waving or screaming. You likely won’t hear your child drowning until it’s too late.

“Parents should stay in the water and within arms-reach of their child,” said Sharon Evans, Trauma Injury Prevention/Outreach coordinator for Cook Children’s Medical Center. “Don’t rely on a lifeguard, or an older child, to save your child. Be in the water. A drowning can happen too quickly not to be in with a child.”

Watching your children in the pool isn’t a job for kids, even older children.

"Teens can be easily distracted and they may not have the judgement skills to handle the job," said Dana Walraven, Community Health Outreach manager at Cook Children’s. "If there's a problem in the pool, a child may have trouble getting another child out of the pool. And this is not a responsibility for a young person. A drowning, even if not fatal, can scar a child for life if something happened if he or she were in charge. This is definitely a job for a grownup."

Evans said she was alarmed at a recent event she was at when she asked children what they should do if they saw a friend drowning or struggling in the pool. Too many said they would jump in and save the child.

“That’s the last thing we want to happen,” Evans said. “The child may not be strong enough to support the other child or a strong enough swimmer to support both kids. If a kid jumps in to rescue a friend, you can easily have two victims.”

Evans said to make sure your children know the best way they can help if they see someone in trouble in the water is to run and get help. Notify a lifeguard if at a pool if one is on duty or find the nearest adult. Have someone get help and call 911 immediately.

So what should you tell your child to do if they see someone drowning?

First, know the signs. The American Red Cross says to watch for these signs a person may be drowning:

  • The person is upright (vertical) in the water.
  • The person is unable to move forward or tread water.
  • The drowning person is pressing his or her arms down at the sides, trying to keep the head above water to breathe.
  • The person spends energy just trying to keep his or her head above water.

If a child sees someone showing signs of trouble, he or she should stay out of the water and look for something to grab a hold of to help the person in trouble:

  • A pool noodle
  • Any flotation device by the pool
  • Fishing pool
  • Rake
  • Canoe paddle.
  • Boat oar.
  • Stick
  • Tree branch
  • Baseball bat.

Have the child get down on his or her stomach for a low center of gravity and brace themselves. Once the person in the water grabs a hold of the object, slowly pull that person out of the water.

If someone is out of reach, objects to throw in to the water include:

  • Kickboard
  • Empty picnic cooler
  • Life jacket
  • Ring buoy
  • Water jug
  • Basketball
  • Inner tube
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photo:Jeff Calaway
Jeff Calaway
Senior Content Specialist
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