MISSOULA – We all know children need to be watched constantly when they’re around water, but even the most diligent supervision can’t prevent all accidents.
66 percent of drownings happen when one or both parents are present. But there’s another line of defense, a way for your young child to save themselves when they get in trouble in the water.
We watched a class in action and learned about infant self-rescue.
One-year-old Leona can’t quite walk. But she can float, and that means she could save her own life.
Leona, Charlie, Hudson, Calvin and Frankie are each taking a class that’s part of the Infant Swimming Resource’s Self-Rescue Program. It’s about safety and confidence to know what to do if they fall into a lake or pool.
They’re learning to roll onto their backs to float, rest and breathe, and to maintain that position until help arrives.
“When they’re not quite walking yet, they learn to roll back and float because that’s the difference between life and death,” said Kaci Briggeman, an ISR Certified Instructor. “It’s like six inches underwater to above water.”
The classes are one-on-one for ten minutes, five days a week. Briggeman’s students are five years old and younger
“Each child is different and that’s something you really see in the first week of lessons,” Briggeman said. “Each child’s response to just getting in the water that first day is different. Each child’s response to different things we’re doing in lessons is different. So being able to focus on that child and just watching their body and listening to their breathing specifically teaches me how to proceed with them.”
These parents all say they spend time near water and want their children to have all the skills and the confidence they need, should they ever fall or become overwhelmed in the water.
They do admit that, at first, watching those first lessons was uncomfortable.
“She cried every lesson the first week, so it was really hard at first. But after that she did amazing,” said Charli’s mom, Amber Conniston.
“At first it was hard to watch, to see your kid underwater and not being able to do anything,” said Hudson’s dad, Bryce Nederhoed. “But after a couple of weeks it’s been a lot better and I think in the long run it will be even better.”
Calvin is four. He’s like a little fish now, but it was this class that restored his love of swimming after a frightening experience in a pool.
“He accidentally slipped into the water and he got terrified and he regressed and wouldn’t go swimming anymore,” said Calvin’s mom, Molly Norton. “So we knew we had to try something different and that’s when we hooked up with Kaci. He was able to be brave and Kaci taught him about challenges and really just pushing himself. And now look at him!”
Briggeman customizes each lesson to each child since their reaction to water is unique. As they get older, they learn new skills.
This experience is much different than floating with a life jacket.
“Their head weight is such a large proportion of their body weight,” Briggeman said. “But if they try to get into the vertical position that they’re in when they’re in a flotation device or anything like that, which is where they go if they do a lot of life jacket swimming. If they get into that without a jacket, then the weight of their head is too much to hold up and they sink, and it’s very quiet.”
The infant program also stresses safety, supervision and securing all pools or hot tubs or gates.
But accidents can happen even when the most attentive parent is in charge. A simple flip and float could mean life or death.
“You can’t put a price on one extra element of safety for your kid and so that was the motivation for us,” said Frankie and Leona’s mom, Kristin Tessman. “Just knowing that we’ve given them all the tools that exist. We feel like they have one more change at being safe.
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Reporting by Jill Valley for MTN News