6 Tips to protect our children from drowning

children drowning

By Isis Nyongo Madison for MumsVillage


As a former professional lifeguard, I am often approached for advice on water safety. I decided to present that advice as six useful and practical reminders about water safety for all parents and caregivers.

According to the World Health Organization, there are over 350,000 reported deaths from drowning globally each year. Tragically, a high percentage is from children under the age of 5. The optics in which I am looking at this from is as a mother, a lifelong swimmer, and a water safety professional. I LOVE swimming and I love everything there is about water. I’ve always loved swimming. I learned the basics here at the YMCA in Nairobi where my mother took us to swim as young kids.

I love swimming so much that I swam on my high school’s swim team even though we didn’t have a swimming pool and had to wake up at 4 am to train at another school’s pool. I love swimming so much that I trained as a lifeguard and a swim instructor at university and watched over adult swimmers and taught children in the summer. I love swimming so much that I’ve continued to swim regularly throughout my adult life. I love swimming so much that I had a water birth so my son could enter the world with water.

Over the years of this addiction to water, I have also paid close attention to safety and while I have fortunately never witnessed nor lost anyone close from drowning, I have been hyper-sensitive to it knowing the risks:


Like with many life events, movies portray drowning in a dramatic fashion that does not reflect reality accurately. Most of the time drowning is fast and easy to miss — this is the crux of what is so terrifying about it. Here are the key signs every parent should know:

• Head low in the water, mouth at water level

• Head tilted back with mouth open

• Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus

• Eyes open, with fear evident on the face

• Hyperventilating or gasping

• Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway

• Trying to roll over on the back to float

• Uncontrollable movement of arms and legs, rarely out of the water.

Two good articles to read more are Drowning and AAP Prevention of Drowning.


Most of us in Nairobi swim in large pools open to the public whether free or for a fee. It is absolutely crucial that these pools have lifeguards on duty whose sole job is to watch over the swimmers. The first thing you should do when you arrive is look for that lifeguard and notice how attentive he or she is. This person should not be doubling up as a waiter or also setting up towels. It’s actually simply sitting and watching actively – this means they are also instructing kids not to run or bring inappropriate toys into the water. They should also have a flotation device right next to them.

If the lifeguard seems to be doing multiple jobs, speak to the management right-away. If there is no lifeguard, ask the management where that person is and if it’s a place that doesn’t have one, then you have to make a choice as to whether you are going to be the lifeguard.


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