A parent’s perspective
I grew up in sunny South Africa so swimming was a big part of my life from a very young age. I am sure any person who has spent much of their childhood in pools and in the sea will tell you, being aware of safety is paramount.
I have two daughters who love swimming but don’t get to swim quite as much as I did as a child. So being able to swim on our summer holidays always a priority for our family. This is true both for holidays abroad and UK holidays. Last year we spent much of our holiday in Whitby on the beach swimming – thank goodness for wetsuits!
We often visit our family in South Africa so I like to make sure my girls are as prepared as possible when we visit as many of our family members have swimming pools – much to my children’s delight. I don’t want to scare them into not going into the water so my approach has been to focus more on their ability to swim and ensure that they are never unsupervised. I have been taking my three year old daughter to swimming lessons since she was seven months old. While I cannot claim that she can swim on her own yet, she is very confident in the water. These lessons teach very little children how to breathe underwater, how to hold on to a buoyancy aid and how to get in and out of the pool on their own. It’s also important for them to understand the dangers of running around the poolside and ensure they understand what the depth of the water is before they dive into the pool. We tend to visit our local leisure centre more than usual on the run up to our summer holidays in order to ensure the girls have lots of practice swimming before we go.
All that is great but it still doesn’t prepare them for swimming in the sea. Many British children simply don’t have the exposure to swimming in the sea that children in sunnier climes will experience. And that lack of experience of swimming in the sea is something we all need to be aware of when we go abroad.
It’s vital to understand the dangers associated with swimming in the sea. Sharks might be foremost on my children’s minds (particularly since our friend’s son recently survived an attack in Plettenburg Bay) but realistically shark attacks are few and far between. Far more frequent are the dangers of rip tides, sudden changes in depth and not understanding that even shallow water can be dangerous in the sea.
Changes in currents and rip tides are not predictable. Therefore it’s absolutely key to only swim between the safety flags. Speak to the lifeguards and ask them where the specific dangers are. I never let my children even paddle in the sea without an adult. I remember getting pulled in to the sea as a very young child in very shallow water. Fortunately a family friend saw what was happening and came to my aid. You must always be aware that, in the sea, the situation can change very quickly so you have to be on constant guard.
It is very important to understand that drowning doesn’t look like drowning. Over 10% of children drown while their parents are watching them. A drowning person often cannot yell or wave. The body is focusing on trying to breathe and you are using your arms to try to keep above the water. So do not rely on the person alerting you to the fact that they are drowning. You have to be aware of each other when you are swimming. Always buddy up when swimming.
As a frazzled, full time working parent I totally understand the temptation to kick back and totally relax with a nice chilled G&T around the pool on holiday. But you always have to remember you are a parent first, and that includes keeping yourself safe! I have a rule that alcohol and swimming (in a pool or in the sea) just do not mix. You need your wits about you when you are swimming. To my mind it’s a skilled activity like driving or walking on stilts. I wouldn’t do either of those in an inebriated state so it’s best to avoid swimming altogether if you have been drinking.
But just like driving and stilt walking, swimming is great fun. As long as you do it in a safe and responsible manner it is one of the best activities you can do on a summer holiday.
Vicki Wolf, Partnerships Manager (Education)