SEATTLE -- When the weather heats up, locals start flocking to the water; by boat, at the beach or by hitting the pool. With water fun, comes water safety. And according to local moms and experts, making the serious stuff fun is what makes it stick.
“Remember we zip it up first. And here’s your whistle. You only blow your whistle when it’s an emergency,” Kiley Merrill told her two-year-old son as they got him ready to get on a sailboat on Saturday.
Merrill says making the zipping, the buckling and the list of boating rules fun for her son, makes a difference.
“We definitely talked to Hunter before being on the boat, and what the rules were, the precautions and that we needed to make sure we were, you know, listening to adults.”
Drowning prevention expert Elizabeth Bennett, from Seattle Children’s Hospital, says getting kids involved from the start makes safety less cumbersome.
“I remember my own daughter saying, ‘Mom, you grab the life vests, I’ll grab the towels!’” says Bennett.
She says even teens need to be wearing life jackets, especially if they don’t have a lot of swimming experience. Letting them pick out a stylish life jacket or getting their opinion when you make a water plan, helps them feel a sense of responsibility.
But not all kids, especially infants, will wear their life jackets with ease. Bennett recommends letting kids play in them and to wear them consistently. She says if you wear them, your kids are more likely to wear them too.
“You are a role model for your children,” she says.
Finally, keep a close watch on your kids. Bennett says you should coordinate with other adults who will be constantly supervising at different times or if your child is young, to make sure they are within reach so you could grab them at a moment’s notice.
“It can be as quick as I turn my head to look at someone, I turn back, and they’re gone.”
Merrill says that is why it is so important to communicate with her husband when they are on the water with their two kids, under the age of two.
“I think, just definitely be communicating with your partner the whole time and make sure that if you’re going to step away for a minute, make sure that they’re aware that you’re stepping away.”
Then, she says, play it cool and have fun; when you’re comfortable, your kids are comfortable.
“They can sense how your feeling and so, I think just do everything you can beforehand to be prepared and then, like I said, just have a good time.”
If you’re shopping for a life jacket, remember that not all are made equally. They must be U.S. Coast Guard approved to be used on a boat, but those look very similar to other vests that are just labeled as “swimming aids” and won’t help protect against drowning. Look for the special tags and labeling that says “U.S. Coast Guard Approved”.
Seattle Children’s hospital has a community life jacket sale three times every summer, the first coming up on Saturday, June 20. For more information, go to their website, where you can also get a coupon for a discount off a life jacket in regular retail stores.
You can also find more information here.