Summer fun often happens in or around bodies of water: lakes, ponds, pools, and beaches are abuzz with activity during the warm-weather vacation months. But fun can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Drowning is the number one killer of children aged 1-4, and it much of the time it happens even while an adult is close at hand.
That’s because drowning in real life doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see. In the movies, drowning people shout and wave their arms. In real life, drowning happens quietly and quickly, as the victim succumbs to the body’s instinctual drowning response. This can look a lot like a child attempting to dog-paddle.
“The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect,” said Mario Vittone, a water safety expert. “There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning.”
The recent tragic death by drowning of Emeline Grier Miller, the 19-month-old daughter of professional beach volleyball player and model Morgan Beck Miller and her husband, US Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, serves as a stark example of how fast tragedy can strike.
“It takes SECONDS,” she wrote on Instagram, urging all parents of young children to be aware of the dangers of drowning.
To see what the Instinctive Drowning Response looks like as it happens, watch this scary video (warning: child endangerment):
Stay close to your kids when you’re in the water and know what to look for. Attention and knowledge are the best tools we have to keep our children safe from this all-too-frequent threat.