Gretchen is a FOSS alumna and former U.S. record holder in the breaststroke. She shares her thoughts on swimming, parenting and life with our readers.
Full disclosure: Up until two years ago, there would have been no way that I would have sent my kids on a play date that would have been around a pool, lake or any body of water. Having been around water my whole life, I knew that this is an area that had to have some boundaries.
We had a pool in our backyard growing up and there were very strict rules that were put in to place by my parents for safety reasons. We were never allowed to go around our pool unless an adult was present at all times. I am so incredibly thankful that I had this example as it shaped how I lead as a parent and safety around water.
A scary experience provides an unforgettable lesson
I had an experience a couple of years ago when my son had a friend over for a play date and we went to the community pool on a very hot day. I asked the parent about their son’s swimming experience and his ability level. They stated that he is completely comfortable in the water and can swim anywhere in the pool.
I talked to them about how I will be responsible for their child’s safety and what they can expect from me when we go to the pool. About 3 minutes into our day at the pool, I had to rescue this boy as he went off the diving board and there was no way he was going to make it to the side.
It was a very crowded day at the pool and the lifeguard had his attention in another area. He did not see this child struggling. Right then and there, I promised myself that before I let either of my children go with friends around water; I must discuss my expectations of water safety with the responsible parent.
Kids’ comfort in the water + 3 rules for adults = a good, safe time
Now that my children are more competent swimmers, I am at the place that a “swim” play date is good for me as long as my non-negotiable rules below are reviewed and agreed to. (I also communicate to other parents that I will live by these when I have their kiddos over for a play date around water.)
Here are my rules:
- If a parent or guardian does not swim, or is not comfortable in the water, or if the pool has no lifeguard, my child cannot attend.
- The adult in charge will accompany my children to the pool and be physically present while they are in the water.
- Even if there is a lifeguard, I expect the adult in charge to keep their eyes on the kids – the lifeguard can’t be expected to be the sole source of safety.
Awareness of risks
Now, different rules apply to different ages of children, but being aware of the dangers that can happen around water is of utmost importance. No matter how good a swimmer your child is, so many things can happen, such as:
- An involuntary gulp of water,
- Muscle cramp,
- Flotation object drifting overhead,
- Someone jumping on top of them,
- Or just plain exhaustion.
I know many people think that I am overly cautious, but I prefer that to any risk of a tragedy that could have been prevented. Through a combination of swim lessons, awareness of your child’s comfort level in water, attunement to potential risks, and clearly understood and agreed-upon rules, you as a parent can gain the confidence to give your child more opportunities to enjoy the water. Have fun and be safe!