Teaching Kids About Water Safety

Thanks for choosing All Knox Swim to teach you and your family swimming and water safety skills. Seriously, thank you!

Our pamphlet is designed to be an overview of teaching kids about water safety. This article is a more thorough guide. We believe that raising up the next generation with water safety knowledge and skills will reduce drownings locally and change statistics nationally.

Now, let’s go through each section of the pamphlet in more detail.

Natural Water Safety

The vast majority of people who die from drowning in Knox County did so in natural bodies of water, like a quarry, lake, or river. There are tons of steps you can take to keep you and your family safe when you are swimming outside in nature. We use the acronym WATER to make it easier to remember!

W – Wear a lifejacket

This is the number one recommendation we can give anyone swimming in natural bodies of water, including adults! In 2022, 80% of people who died from drowning in natural bodies of water in Knox County were not wearing a lifejacket. That should make us reconsider how we treat safety around natural bodies of water.

Often times, natural bodies of water aren’t clear, so it would be impossible to see someone once they went below the surface. That makes quick rescue very difficult. Also, there may be a current, which could mean a drowning person could drown faster and be more difficult to rescue. Wearing a lifejacket significantly increases the likelihood of survival in the event of an emergency.

TN law only requires that children under 12 wear a lifejacket at all times while boating. Adults just have to have a lifejacket on board. To change the culture, we must show kids that we are willing to wear one at all times, just like they are. Why would they wear a lifejacket when they are adults when we don’t?

This applies to swimming in lakes, rivers, quarries, and oceans as well. Strong swimmers drown too. The current cultural norm is that young children wear lifejackets, but adults don’t have to. We can change the cultural sentiment around this by getting more adults to wear lifejackets. That is you! We can do this! It will change the next generation and reduce the statistics if you wear a lifejacket. You will look silly to some, but one day you won’t. When that day comes, it will all be worth it.

Everyone should wear a lifejacket in the water. Young children should wear a lifejacket when they are anywhere even close to the water. Teach them that if they want to be close to the water, they should put a lifejacket on first.

A- Always with an adult

Children should never swim alone. Young children in particular do not have the greatest concepts of danger. Water is fun, and kids may not realize their life is at risk.

If you ever take your children somewhere to swim, teach them to ask you before they get in the water. That will help them understand that they need your permission to swim.

You should also teach them to only swim with an adult watching them. If they ask you and then you walk away, that doesn’t help! An adult should be present with them the whole time, watching them carefully and even getting in the water with them. A competent adult will be able to make decisions in an emergency that a child cannot.

This applies to adults too! No one should ever swim alone.

T- Take a look around

Teach your children to pause and look around before they jump in the water. Ask them questions like “Is there something or somebody where you want to jump?”. If the answer is “yes”, they should either wait, jump in somewhere else, or don’t jump. If the answer is “no”, then go ahead and jump!

Teaching kids to take a look around before they jump gives them awareness of their surroundings, which is crucial in keeping everyone safe around the water.

E- Enter carefully

Many people have gotten injured, become paralyzed, and even died from jumping or diving into water that they were unfamiliar with. If you can’t see the bottom, entering the water carefully allows you to learn what is underneath the surface.

Entering the water carefully may look like walking in from the edge, climbing down a ladder from a boat or dock, or easing in from the side of a boat. You can also use a paddle to check the depth initially to give you a better understanding of the environment.

Diving into shallow water is extremely dangerous, especially if you can’t see the bottom. Diving is simply entering the water head first, which gives you the least control of your body upon entering. Teach your kids different ways to enter and analyze the water in various environments so they have all the tools they need to enter carefully.

R- Respond to an emergency

See the last section

Pool Safety

Being safe around the pool is similar to natural bodies of water. However, the key differences are easier access to more life-saving equipment and being able to see the bottom.

We also have a separate resource that talks about pool safety. Check that out when you are done with this!

Most children drown in pools. Teaching kids about water safety around pools is crucial to change the statistics. We use the acronym POOLS to make it easy to remember!

P- Play gently

This is similar to “Take a look around” from the natural water safety section. Teach your children to pause before they jump in the water. Ask them questions like “Is there something or somebody where you want to jump?”. If the answer is “yes”, they should either wait, jump in somewhere else, or don’t jump. If the answer is “no”, then go ahead and jump!

Teaching them to take this simple step before jumping could save a kids life!

One key difference is that in a pool, it isn’t as essential that they wear a lifejacket. They should be supervised by an adult, you can see below the surface, and their isn’t a current. This makes it easier to quickly rescue someone.

You should also teach kids to know where they can stand in a pool. Allowing kids to jump in where they can stand allows them to have fun without getting in water that is too deep. Teach them not to jump in extremely shallow water, but to jump in water that is deep enough that they won’t injure themselves. More advanced swimmers can jump in the deep end, of course. You just want to make sure more beginner swimmers know their limits.

Playing rough in the water can also lead to injury and death. Kids may not know that another kid needs to come up for air when they are holding them under water. They also may not know what another kids swimming skills are. Teaching kids to never push people in or hold people underwater reduces the chance of an innocent mistake that could potentially injure or kill someone.

O- Only with adults

This is essentially the same as the natural water safety section.

Children should never swim alone. Young children in particular do not have the greatest concepts of danger. Water is fun, and kids may not realize their life is at risk.

Teach kids to ask to get in the pool every time they want to swim. That will help them understand that they need your permission to swim. It also reminds them they need an adult present to swim. This is especially important if you have a pool at your house.

O- Only walking feet

It isn’t a good idea to run around the pool. Many pool surfaces can be slick, which may cause a running child to fall and even go into the water. This could lead to a drowning incident when the child wasn’t even trying to enter the water.

Teach kids to always walk around the pool or use “walking feet”. That will add another layer of protection to your swimming experience.

L- Lay down to reach

This is something we practice with students during their swim lessons. Kids often lean over to reach for toys in the water. That makes it very easy for kids to fall in when they never intended to get in the water. There are no statistics on this, but it seems reasonable that many young kids fall in while reaching for something in the water.

Teach kids to lay on their belly so they can’t fall in. Of course, they can still fall in depending on how they lay on their belly, but the chance of falling in is far less if they are laying down.

S- Safely respond to an emergency

See the last section

Other tips

Teach kids to ask for help when they can’t reach a toy. This is a simple step that could prevent a child from jumping in after a toy!

You can still put a child in a lifejacket if they are in a pool. This is particularly important if an adult isn’t getting in the water with them.


Even if you take all the precautions you can, emergencies still happen. Teaching kids to recognize and respond to an emergency can give kids the ability to get help quickly and reduce drownings.

Recognize an emergency

Active drowning

Drowning isn’t what most people think. It is dramatic and the person doesn’t call for help.

Most of the time, people that are actively drowning are in a vertical position and moving in a “climbing a ladder” motion. There may be little or no splashing, and the person will not make any forward progress. The person might be looking up, but many kids don’t even do that.

To some kids, it may just look like swimming! So teach and show kids the signs of active drowning so they know the person needs help.

Of course, this is more difficult to recognize in natural bodies of water, especially when the water isn’t clear. If you get the chance, show them what it looks like in natural bodies of water too!

Passive drowning

Eventually, a active drowning person becomes unconscious and becomes a passive drowning person without intervention. Sometimes, people go straight to passive drowning.

A passive drowning person is motionless. They can be floating at or below the surface as well as be on the bottom.

Teach kids the signs of a passive drowning person so they know when to get help. In natural bodies of water, the person is ideally wearing a lifejacket, so it may not look like they need help. If they aren’t moving, that is the key signal to get help.

Respond to an emergency

The response for a child to a drowning emergency is to get help and fast!

Once they recognize that an emergency is taking place, teach them to tell an adult right away. Tell them to say something like “Someone is stuck in the pool!” or “Someone is drowning!” or similar phrases.

When we simulate this activity during lessons, kids will often say something like “He needs help”. That language isn’t clear and a busy parent may brush that off. Kids always seem to need help, so what is the rush!

If you have a pool at your house, this is particularly important. If your child comes to you clearly stating there is an aquatic emergency, you will be more likely to get to your child quickly and save their life.

Another key point is to teach your child not to try to save them. Some older children may be competent swimmers, but saving a drowning person can be complex. If a child intervenes, they may end up drowning too. Teach kids to get help fast instead of trying to save the person.

Have questions?

You can always reach out to us if you have questions about water safety or swim lessons. Email us a drowningfree@allknoxswim.com or call us at 865-309-4944.

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