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Is my kid drowning? Know the real signs

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Whether you're going on a summer beach or boating trip, to a pool party, water park, or sending your kids to Camp Crystal, every family needs to know how to recognize the "Instinctive Drowning Response." Pay attention, this is serious! {most of us do not know this}

The Florida summer is upon us, the heat and humidity have arrived and school officially ends here in Alachua County this week. Vacations will be planned, camps attended, and every Florida resident will undoubtedly go swimming at some point this summer. And though we talk a lot about water safety and how to prevent children from drowning, I don't think we focus enough on the actual signs of drowning. Ensure your kids survive their water activities this summer by verifying that the adults they are entrusted to know the real signs of drowning (not the TV version.)

Drowning is portrayed on TV as being a loud, splashy, crazed event easily recognizable by bystanders, with the person screaming for help. This is not the case. The act of drowning is actually a quiet process that often goes unnoticed by those around the drowning individual. This is how so many kids drown in their own pools, or within earshot of their own parents.

The United States Coast Guard Journal "OnScene" outlined the signs of Instinctive Drowning Response in their Fall 2006 issue. "The Instinctive Drowning Response represents a person's attempts to avoid the actual or perceived suffocation in the water. The suffocation in water triggers a constellation of autonomic nervous system responses that result in external, unlearned, instinctive drowning movements that are easily recognizable by trained rescue crews."

If we parents learn to recognize the panic and distressed signs of "Instinctive Drowning Response" we can save our kids before it's too late. Some of the signs might surprise you.

  1. First thing adults need to remember, if the kids are quiet it's not good! As parents, we know that if the kids stop making noise while they are playing in their rooms or in the backyard it generally means something is wrong. Treat their behavior in the water the same way. If you can't hear/see them splashing around and happily make noise, something might be terribly wrong! Why? Because a drowning person is incapable of calling out for help. They cannot scream, because they cannot breathe.
  2. Watch the location of your child's mouth in relation to the water; if it is bobbing up and down above and then below the water, go grab them. They are probably exhaling and inhaling quickly before they sink below the surface again.
  3. If arms are extended straight out from the body, and legs are motionless, be worried. Nature forces drowning people to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. This is an involuntary movement. Drowning people cannot wave for help!
  4. Unresponsiveness is another sign; you cannot call out to a drowning person and tell them to grab a safety raft, rope,etc. Their physiology has taken over and they are incapable of voluntary movements, like moving their bodies in any way other than in the "Instinctive Drowning Response." This means they need help ASAP!

Remember: No Screaming, No Waving, No Control

This should become mandatory training for anyone watching kids near water.

But, don't let this frighten you away from the water this summer. After all, being submerged in H2O is the best way to survive the humidity of Florida's brutal summers. But be informed, and make sure all counselors, and caretakers of your children also know the above signs of drowning. It could save a child's life.

Drowning Fact Sheet

Statistics on drowning

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