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Does our Culture Promote Drowning in Toddlers?

It's almost midnight and I can't sleep. Can't stop thinking about how I lost my son.

Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury related death in children aged 1-4. Most drownings in this age group occur in residential pools, while in the care of one or both parents and were last seen (not swimming) less than 5 minutes prior.

We need to start thinking more about why this is happening. It is not due to a lack of good parenting as drowning has affected the best parents. Trust me, I’ve met them. And obviously, this age group has developmental and cognitive immaturities, they like to wander, and are so fast..... but I’m going to go one step further. I believe our culture is a huge influence.

July 9th, 2016. I keep thinking about that day. I can’t stop thinking about where we went wrong. It goes beyond having a secure door or a fence around my pool. It has to do with the way we view water. And by “we”, I mean all of us. Common sense tells us that we wouldn’t encourage a child to play with fire or to play in a busy street, but why are we so inclined with letting them play in the element that is most likely to kill them? Why do we encourage play before safety when it comes to water?

Think about it. You are at a park with your children and you spot a fountain. What do you do? Do you take them to it to see how beautiful and magical the water is? Do you encourage them to splash their hands in it or stick their feet in it? It’s no wonder why young children are drawn to the water.

Jackson (7 months old) looking up at a fountain

Now, think about this. You see a fire. Do you take your children up close to the fire, encourage them to touch it or play with it? Absolutely not. Why? Because fire is dangerous.

I understand that my view point might seem extreme. But I lost my son to drowning because I taught him it was a fun and safe place for him to be. I encouraged him to jump in, to play with toys in the water and that he could float around safely with his floaties. What I didn’t teach him was how to survive in the water.

I enrolled him in swimming lessons the spring before he drowned, but unfortunately, they were not the right kind of lessons. These lessons further aided him to feel comfortable in the water. To develop confidence in the water without any real skill. To develop a false sense of security.

Something else I was unaware about was floatation devices. I’m not referring to life jackets on open water, but puddle jumpers and water wings for “swimming” in the pool. From a very young age, children grow accustomed to a vertical life. They sit upright, pull themselves upright, walk upright… This is how we live our lives. So, when they get into the water, they think they should be upright.

Skinny dipping in his puddle jumper

These floatation devices keep our children upright in the water. You might be saying to yourself, why is this bad? (Trust me, I thought the same thing. I even kept my son’s puddle jumper to pass on to this younger brother.) The true problem is when they are not wearing these devices. They are accustomed to being upright in the water. They try to stay in that upright position because that is all they know; that is how we trained them to “swim”. When they stay in that position without the aid of the devices, they are unable to get the air they need. Unable to breathe.

“But I watch my children.” Do you think I didn’t watch mine? I left the room for 5 minutes in which I asked my husband to keep an eye on our son. It was habit for me to make sure that someone had eyes on him all the time. He thought Jackson went upstairs to play with his sisters, which in our home was completely normal and safe. Never did it cross his mind that he would go through the dog door and find his way to the pool. The dog door that was normally locked and secured by a second door. The dog door he never showed any interest in. What lead him outside that day? Why did he discover the dog door that day? All I know is that when he saw the pool, he was probably excited and thought of all the fun times we had swimming as a family.

Did he jump in the pool on purpose? Did he fall in by accident reaching for a toy we left behind? Did he think of the consequences of jumping in without a parent? (of course not, he was 18-months-old). Did he think he would float in the water, since most of the time he was in the pool he wore his puddle jumper? Was he scared when he realized he couldn’t get out? Did he try to cry out for me as I sat 20 feet away on my bed? Was he in pain?

These are questions I don’t want anyone else to have to think about. It is sad for me to think this, but as long as our culture promotes this lack of safety for young children in the water, there will be more toddler drownings.

Layers of protection are vital. The more layers in place to protect your child from drowning, the better. I encourage all of you to think a little more about this the next time you invite your young child to the water. Would they know what to do if they made it to the water alone?

Oh, one more thing…. You say don’t have a pool? Neither did Levi, or Emmy, or Jake, or Judah, or Colton, or Kelsey….

Written by Jenny Bennett

Mother of 4, Registered Nurse, Founding Member PPCD

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