Finally, summer seems to have arrived. And with it, our worries about our children at the local “Badis”, outdoor pools. It’s hard to get used to the different approach to water safety in Switzerland. Don’t get us a wrong, drowning numbers in Switzerland speak for themselves, they are a lot lower than in many other countries but as a parent new to this country, it is important to understand a few things. For example, it is important to know that compared to many other countries, in Switzerland a life guard does NOT have to stay next to the pool at all times.
One of the things worrying parents a lot is when they can allow their children to go to a pool on their own without parental supervision.
While age and swimming skills are important, there are other factors to consider, too:
- The maturity of a child: are they confident enough to not join “risky” or inappropriate behaviour?
- What are the other kids your child meets up with like and what are their swimming skills like?
- How many kids are in the group?
- How busy is the Badi? What time of the day are they going to the Badi? Is it holiday season?
Here are some recommendations and approaches used in Switzerland:
- Many Badis have age restrictions for younger children: under age 10, they are NOT allowed without adults. Yes, it does happen and not all public pools have the same regulations.
- Other Badis do not allow children under the age of 10 years without adults in the pool after a certain time, usually after 18 o’clock.
- And in some Badis, definitely our favourite approach, children under age 10 years must pass a swimming test (Wassersicherheitscheck ) before they are allowed to go to the pool on their own.
Responsible pools and life guards will not allow young children such as first or second graders to go to the pool on their own, even though in Germany the age limit for children in a pool on their own is 7 (yes, SEVEN years).
The “Wassersicherheitscheck”, water safety check, is a deep water assessment, which was developed in Canada. During this session a child is assessed on their deep water safety skills. The test assesses three skills:
- tumble into the water
- keep yourself above the water surface for one minute
- swim 50 meters without stopping or standing and then get out of the pool without using a ladder
Our thought: every child should do this check before they are allowed in a pool on their own, after all drowning is still the second most common accident related cause of death in children (not just in Switzerland (study conducted by Beratungsstelle für Unfallverhütung, but worldwide). And even if drowning does not result in death, the consequences of lack of oxygen to the brain are catastrophic.
By the way, the DLRG (German Association for Life Guarding) recommends further skills to ensure deep water safety before children go swimming without adult supervision:
- Children must be able to find their way around UNDER water as well as above water.
- Children have to be able to swim for 15 minutes in deep water without stopping or standing.
- Children have to be able to swim on their back as well as swimming on their front.
- Children have to master several jumps into the water.
- Children are able to continue swimming even when they’ve swallowed water.
What does this mean for you and your child?
It means you must talk to your local Badi and the life guard to find out what rules they use and what age limit they put on children using the pool on their own. And it means, that you should teach your child these skills, whether they are going to the pool on their own or not this summer, because these are life saving skills.