This is part two of the “What To Do If Your Child Is Drowning” series. Read about infants/toddlers here.
The purpose of these posts is to find out what you should do if you realize your child is actually drowning or struggling in the water rather than repeat the warnings of how to prevent it. I want to put a couple thoughts and tools in your hands to know WHAT to do if faced with an emergency.
Dr. Linda Quan, an emergency attending physician and drowning expert at Seattle Children’s shares information on what to do if you come upon a school-age child or teenager who is drowning. Preparing for this can help boost awareness and response if ever you support or discover a child in need for rescue.
Keep Your Own Safety In Mind
One of the most important things to be aware of if you see an older child or teen drowning is they are usually in water that is deeper and poses more risk to the rescuer. Always take time to consider personal risks before attempting a rescue. This requisite step plays counter to our instincts to act fast as parents and guardians of children…but I can’t overstate this. The size and strength of the child who is drowning should always be taken into consideration. Children and teens can be large enough to actually drown the rescuer. Dr. Quan says,
For this age, the “Throw or Reach” rule is the key safest rescue action.
Reach to the child with something they can grab (a stick, paddle or your hands), only if you’re in a safe place and not at risk of being pulled in by the victim. Alternatively, you can throw something that floats (a life jacket, ball or safety ring) toward the child. Do not jump in to the water to rescue a drowning child or teen unless you are trained to do so. Only those who are experienced in water rescue and have some type of floatation with them should go into the water to perform a rescue.
If possible, get your child or teen comfortable in the water. If they have had some experience in water it might be easier for them to overcome panic and either reach for a flotation device or flip over, float and breathe.
If You Think A Child Or Teen Might Be In Trouble:
- Tell someone to call for help – a lifeguard or 9-1-1
- Stay well clear of the water and any incoming surf unless you are trained, qualified and equipped to make an in-water rescue in these conditions
- If the child has been taught to float, yell to them to flip over, float and not fight the current.
- Immediately throw the child who is old enough something that floats (e.g., a lifejacket, ball, body board, empty cooler with lid secured)
- If you can safely do so, reach to the child with something they can grab (eg., stick, paddle) – STAY out of the water.
- Safely remove the child from the water without endangering yourself.
- When you get the child to shore, if the child is conscious, provide warming and comfort. If the child continues to have any breathing trouble, such as shortness of breath, fast breathing, coughing, labored breathing or seems too tired, seek medical care immediately. If the child is unconscious, lie the child down on his back, chin up.
- If the child is blue or not breathing, give several rescue breaths ( mouth to mouth).
- If the child does not take breaths or respond on his own, start CPR (chest compressions with ventilation).
- After several rounds of CPR, call 911 if they have not been called yet.
- To learn more about child CPR check out this article.
- Learn more about drowning prevention and water safety.
Nadine Bolliger says
I appreciate this helpful article; thank you! Can you please comment on the idea of putting them on their backs and tipping up their chin for CPR, if they have likely swallowed a lot of water? It seems counter-intuitive, as my inclination would be to turn them on their side or in some position which would support water emptying out of their system, before putting them on their back. I have no background in aquatic lifesaving, so I am quite interested in understanding the instructions. Thanks for additional comments!
Dr. Linda Quan says
You identify a critical issue that is the major misunderstanding about drowning. Drowning is NOT about water in the airway or lung; it is about not being able to breath. Treatment of drowning is NOT about removing water from the airway or lung; it is about getting air into the lungs. Placing someone on their back with chin up is the position taught to maximize the ease of passage of air into the lungs for providing breaths to them. If the child or person is breathing or coughing they do not need to be put on their back. If they are not breathing, they need to be given breaths. Providing breaths to the person who isn’t breathing treats the problem: lack of oxygen. If there seems to be a lot of water in the mouth, you are correct, roll the victim over to let it drain out, then roll them on to their back and give the breaths. Don’t waste time trying to drain water! Give breaths which contain the life saving and brain saving oxygen!
Todd Smith says
This is a great article. One of the things that would also be nice to see is how to identify a child or person that is drowning, and how those signs differ from what people see on TV or in the movies. There have been a few stories recently of how a child drowns in a pool and people either in the vicinity or actually in the pool do not recognize the signs or do not understand that they are actually witnessing a drowning.