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Keeping Your Kids Safe At The Pool: What A Lifeguard Knows

Lifeguards are not there to be babysitters. Our job is to help in an emergency, but we are watching lots of kids at one time, not just one.
07/25/2016 04:16pm ET | Updated July 26, 2017
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lifeguard at a water park

What does a lifeguard know about keeping your kids safe at the pool? I asked my son, who has been a community pool lifeguard for over five years, and who had a "jump" last summer, the term lifeguards use when they've needed to save a life.

It had been a 90 degree day, and in the middle of a crowded pool, my son saw a child floating face down. Within two seconds, the well practiced plan and hours of training that the lifeguards are required to complete, took over. He blew his whistle calling in other guards to action, and he jumped, pulling the child out. The child is thankfully fine, but my son came home saying all the things that could have been done to avoid the near drowning.

I asked him to tell me the most important things we need to know about protecting our kids when in water. His answers went beyond the usual routine advice we have already heard about water safety.

Here's what a veteran lifeguard has to say about being a lifeguard and how you can help him to keep you and your kids, safe in the water:

1.) Lifeguards are not there to be babysitters. Our job is to help in an emergency, but we are watching lots of kids at one time, not just one.

2.) Wear sunscreen. Even if it's cloudy. You'll get burned through the gray, trust me. Every year, I see bad burns and people are always surprised at how it happened.

3.) When we say your kid isn't able to do something, don't take it as an insult. Lots of us teach swim lessons besides lifeguarding. We know what makes a swimmer strong enough to move to the next level and be safe swimming in a deeper depth. Practice, sign up for an extra set of lessons and get better at swimming before you enter into water that's deep.

4.) We don't make the rules, we're just paid to enforce them. Don't get mad at us and argue with us about how we don't want you to have fun when we ask you to not throw your kid in the pool. Your kids see you yelling back at us. We do want you to have a good time, but we want you to have a good time by being safe. When we tell you as an adult to not play chicken with your kid on your shoulders, please show your kids that you will listen to us, respect the job we do and obey us.

5.) Take a break, kids get tired easily and you can see them become weaker in the water the longer they play. Swim for awhile, then sit it out and let them rest before you come back in.

6.) Want to know why we use our megaphone and say "WALK!" 100 times a day? It's because we have seen enough kids run on a slippery surface and fall on their head and need some serious stitches.

7.) Talk to your kids before you get to the pool. Tell them about pool safety, show them where to go and where not to go. Tell them to listen and obey the lifeguard. You're at the pool to have fun, the last thing you want is an accident. When you make it clear how to behave at the pool, you lessen the chance of that.

8.) Always know where your kid is and tell them they have to tell you where they are going to be.

9.) The best way to keep your kid safe in water is to watch them. Know where they are, always, and watch them. Don't read a book, don't be on your phone, don't fall asleep, don't walk away and get a snack. We have seen kids climb up slides and go down them not knowing they empty into deep water. We have seen kids run and jump off diving boards without any idea they're about to go into water over their head.

I was a kid at the pool once, too. I used to think that lifeguards just liked shouting WALK! because they liked the megaphone. Until I became a lifeguard. I remember being yelled at for running and doing cannonballs off the edge of the pool. Now I know there's a reason for it. Kids get hurt, kids nearly drown.

Water is fun, but you have to be aware of how it can turn from fun to danger if you're not careful. This isn't just for kids -- adults, too, have to be responsible for their safety in water. Don't go where it's deep if you can't swim in it.

And one more thing: every summer, parents ask us why they can't use water wings. It's because they make kids falsely feel they're safe in deeper water, and the parents think so too. But water wings aren't life preservers and can't be used for that. We've seen them deflate, slip off and even pop.