Water safety rules crucial

IT'S spring and time to prepare for the warm weather.

I am taking swimming lessons, sort of. I am involved in swimming lessons for babies and because my daughter has twins I have the joy of being the extra adult in the pool with one of my grandchildren.

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Teaching kids how to swim is a basic necessity in a country surrounded by water and sprinkled liberally with lakes, ponds and rivers. There are also all sorts of outdoor water sources from sprinklers to run through, to small blow-up pools to full-sized backyard pools. The two ways we can help our kids be safe around the water are to supervise them and teach them how to swim.

If your kids are going to be spending time on the beach or at a lakeside cottage it is important that there be clear guidelines for their activities. It may be that they are to wear life-jackets when they play in or near the water, that they don't go out without an adult and that they play or swim with a buddy. It is important that you enforce these rules; they may save your child's life.

Just as pools and fun go together, pools and accidents also go together. I really hate to pick up my local newspaper and read about another child who has drowned in the backyard pool. It's always a tragedy and usually preventable.

It is easy to forget that children can drown in a backyard pool as easily as in the ocean or a lake. We also know that babies can easily drown in the bathtub when Mom turns her back for a minute or runs out to quickly answer the phone. Like the tub, the pool becomes familiar. It's easy to overlook the potential danger and it's easy for parents to let down their guard.

So what are the considerations when you have a backyard pool? Even if you don't have young children, kids come to visit so the rules still need to be in place. As a matter of fact, when it's visiting kids you need to be extra vigilant because they won't know the rules and expectations. They may be extremely excited at the possibility of swimming in someone's backyard and you are not aware of their ability or experience around water and water play.

A fence should enclose pools; in most municipalities this is the law. But often, the fence encloses the whole backyard, which means it is accessible through the house or garage. The pool should have its own separate fence, which small children can't open. The fence needs to be difficult to climb and have a latch that is on top and self-closing. Then unsupervised youngsters can play safely in the yard.

Pool play needs to be supervised. Once children can stand easily in the deepest part of the pool and can swim, they don't need an adult on the deck at all times but no one should ever swim alone and an adult should be within easy call. These rules will vary depending on the depth of the water in the pool. A pool with a deep end requires more vigilance.

Don't leave to answer the phone. Either let it ring or use your cell. You think you will just be gone for a minute but we all know that calls can extend in length before we know it.

Make sure visiting children have permission from their parents. It's also a good idea to insist that all children bring their own towels (thus ensuring that they go home to get permission from their parents and reducing your laundry pile).

Develop obvious rules: no pushing or holding kids underwater, no peeing in the pool; if you can't touch bottom, you need an adult with you. Make sure you go over the rules with the kids before they get in the pool.

If they are returning friends, just have them tell you the rules to remind them of the expectations.

Pools are also lots of fun and can be the focus for many a summer barbecue. Invite friends and colleagues over on a hot day and let them relax, cool off and have fun.

A swim at bedtime is a great way to ensure a good sleep. As a matter of fact swimming is good exercise for the whole family.

Water play is refreshing, great exercise and tremendous fun, just take precautions and relax.

And now, I am going to see if I can keep up with an eight-month-old in the water!

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at parentingtoday.ca.

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