Drowning Is Silent. Here Are The Signs Parents Need To Look For This Summer.


Summer’s nearly here, & hanging out at the pool is a great way to spend a hot, sunny day with the kids. We’re fortunate to have a relatively inexpensive community pool in our town, which is a great place to spend a chunk of those endlessly long summer afternoons.


Granted, you may have to deal with some unsavory aspects of public pool life: the odd floating Bandaid, endless screams of “Marco! Polo!”, and let’s not even get started on the mass quantity of urine in the kiddie pool- but the kids love a day at the pool.

One of the obvious drawbacks to spending your summer poolside, however, is the potential for drowning.

Regardless of whether you are swimming in a public or privately-owned pool, it’s dangerous to assume that the act of drowning is an obvious one. We often think we know what drowning “looks like” based on the depictions of it on television, but that’s often not how it actually happens.

We assume that because we and/or the lifeguard on duty is watching a child in the water, we would know if he or she was drowning, right? Not necessarily; here’s an alarming statistic regarding child drowning:

According to emergency physician Dr. Scott Youngquist, 50% of kids who drown do so within 25 yards of a parent. 10% of those drownings occur while the parent is watching, unaware that the child is actually drowning.

Granted, a drowning accident can obviously occur if an adult or lifeguard is not supervising a child in the water. But what about those that ARE watching? What are the less obvious signs that a swimmer is drowning?

We expect to see the big, theatrical thrashing- think your average Baywatch victim. But first of all, the majority of kids do exactly this while they’re playing in the water, which leads parents to typically jump up out of our lounge chair twice a minute to suss out if there’s real danger. 

Actual drowning can be much less obvious.

I just watched a news report about a 3-year-old that (nearly) drowned in a hotel pool due to lack of supervision. The boy managed to slip into the pool without detection, but the really scary part was watching his head slip below the surface, without any thrashing at all. Thankfully he was rescued, but it’s a powerful reminder that drowning is not always an obvious event to spot.

The helpful diagram below illustrates many of the subtle signs a person can display when in distress. The arching of the neck upward and the quick gasps for breath are two key signs. 

Drowning Is Silent. Here Are The Signs Parents Need To Look For This Summer. the signs of a child drowning might actually surprise you. Here's what you need to know. #drowning #summer #filterfreeparents

Many drowning victims can’t even make a sound because they are trying so desperately to keep breathing above the water level.

Photo Credit: The Art Of Manliness. Illustrated by Ted Slampyak

In terms of body movement, you don’t necessarily see the arms jutting high above the water’s surface; most swimmers in trouble tend to move their legs back and forth and to pump their arms up and down in a motion that’s called “climbing the ladder”. The arms might only just break the surface rather than being thrust in the air as we’ve come to expect.

Sure, the diagram is helpful, but what do these things actually LOOK LIKE in motion? In order to educate adults on what signs to be observant of when children are in the water, a group known as Lifeguard Rescue created a YouTube channel to illustrate what drowning actually looks like.

The channel provides over seventy educational “Spot The Drowning”  videos that each depict near-drowning episodes.

If you were able to catch which swimmer was in trouble before the lifeguard jumped in, then you’re quicker than me! This struggling swimmer is an ideal example of how less than-obvious some swimmers in distress can appear.

This swimmer’s struggle to keep his mouth above the water surface is a concrete example of the illustrated signs posted above. 

When it comes to kids and pools, the most crucial element in ensuring a child’s safety is, of course, appropriate supervision.

Knowing these more subtle signs of swimming distress, however, can not only keep your own child safe but can help you to be more aware of someone else’s child being in potential danger, too.

The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. Fellow parents are a great support in helping us to keep our heads above water, figuratively. Educating yourself on how to spot possible drowning is an essential way to keep all heads above water, literally.


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