Fun in the sun Fun in the sun

Nothing says ‘Australian summer’ like taking a dip. Here’s how to help the whole family cool off safely.

Taking your toddler swimming is one of the most poignant reminders for any parent of how much life has changed. Where our favourite beaches and pools may once have been places for frivolous frolicking or lazing with a good book, once children come along, pools and beaches are suddenly places for serious vigilance as we seek to keep our little ones safe while they splash around.

Child smiling at sun with floating device
Adult teaching child to swim
Pink round floating device

Keeping watch

With 25 children aged zero to four drowning in Australia every year, and those aged one to two years old at the highest risk of drowning, health authorities are at pains to point out to parents how important it is to keep an eagle eye on our youngsters around water.

“Active supervision is still the number one safety message,” says Stacey Pidgeon, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia (RLSSA) spokesperson. “Pool fences are important, but even with a fence, active supervision is key. The drowning rate triples after a child’s first birthday so always be within arm’s reach of kids aged zero to five, ready to respond if something does happen.”

In fact, RLSSA recommends some level of supervision until kids turn 15, being within arm’s reach of those under four, actively supervising from the water’s edge when they are five to 10, and regularly checking on those aged 11 to 14. Stacey says parents need to ignore the chores, food prep or the lure of reading a text message when your kids are around water. “Have rules around the water, such as kids are not allowed near the water without mum or dad or an adult around,” she adds.


Teach them safety basics

Children can start swimming lessons from as young as six months old, where the focus is primarily on water familiarisation. “The earlier you can start, the better because you are exposing your children to the aquatic environment and building up water familiarisation,” says Jared Wilson, AUSTSWIM spokesperson.

“We are not looking for the next Olympic swimmers; it’s about allowing participants to learn swimming and water safety skills so they have the knowledge, skill and understanding to safely participate in aquatic activities.”

AUSTSWIM-licensed swimming and water safety teacher Robyn Larkham says there are some great basics that parents can teach their kids to help practise skills outside of lessons.

“Teach them grabbing and turning skills so that if they do fall in the water, they can grab something like the edge of the pool, a noodle or an aid thrown in from the side of the pool. It’s crucial they can get their mouth out of the water and get that breath in,” she says.

“Make sure your child knows how to climb out of a pool – teach them ‘elbow, elbow, tummy up, knee, knee’. As they get more skilled in the water, we teach them to roll on their back so they can get the breath in.”

Another great skill is learning to push off from the bottom of the pool. “A lot of kids go into a state of shock and don’t react [underwater] but if they can use their legs as levers to get their mouth out of the water, they will be able to get some oxygen in,” Robyn says.

“Children can fall into the water sideways or backwards, so it can also be helpful to get kids [who are old enough] to practise falling in [to the pool] in different ways off plastic inflatables so they understand how their body moves in the water.”

But even once they’ve mastered swimming basics, it’s not yet time for parents to put their feet up. “Some of our research has shown that parents think, ‘My child can swim now so they no longer need supervision’, but the perception of what a child can do is often overestimated,” Stacey explains.

“Even if a child is in swimming lessons, you need to supervise them when you go to a pool or the beach. The environment in swimming lessons is very different to a swimming pool.”

Parent teaching babay to swim
Deck chairs within fenced pool area
Pool toys floating in pool
Pool noodles

Create safe environments

While Australia boasts strict laws around pool fences, it’s important that gates are kept closed and fences are regularly checked for safety compliance. “Lots of kids get into their home pool because the gate has been faulty or propped open,” Stacey points out. “Even inflatable pools with a depth greater than 30cm legally need to be fenced – if this is not possible, place a barrier around the child, such as a playpen.”

Always make sure you take pool toys out of the water when you’re not around to reduce the risk of kids trying to get them out. “Having an awareness of CPR and first aid is also important because you never know when you might need those skills,” Stacey adds.


Parent pool tips

We asked some mums to share their family’s water safety rules.

Colourful inflatable pool

“When my boys were little, we wouldn’t open the pool gate until they had their floaties on. Once they got older, we taught them to jump ‘far in’ from the side so that they don’t accidentally hit their head if they jumped in too close to the edge.” – Jacqui Kendall

“Keep any moveable or climbable toys, like [Little] Tikes cars or plastic slides with ladders, away from the pool area. And if you can, it would be great to never let them see how you operate the gate so they can’t mimic you.” – Sharna Franks


“We live by the beach and our four-year-old son, Luca, must wear a life vest near the water – it’s non-negotiable. He loves jumping in the water, but knows he always has to check the depth first by safely stepping in before he is allowed to jump in.” – Jade Lo Rosso


Originally published in The Costco Connection, Sep/Oct 2021. Pick up the latest copy at your local warehouse or read it online.