It's not easy for Summerville mom Michelle Zieg to share the story of her son, Brayden's, accidental drowning. But if makes other parents more vigilant about water safety, she says, then it's worth it.
In the summer of 2008, Zieg was pregnant and feeling miserable. Brayden and his older brother were playing while she rested. But in an instant, the two boys slipped out the door and into the backyard. When Zieg realized they weren't in the house, she started searching and discovered the back door was open. Brayden, 17 months old, had fallen into the swimming pool and drowned.
In 2010, Zieg and her sister started Because of B.R.A.Y.D.E.N. - an acronym for Building Resources & Awareness of Youth Drownings through Encouragement & Networking - as a way to educate families about water safety and prevent future child drownings.
Zieg's key message: Supervision is essential for keeping kids safe around water. That means more than just being nearby while kids are swimming, or near a pool or body of water, she said. It means truly monitoring the children. Drownings often occur when lifeguards or parents are around, Zieg noted. Turning away even for a minute can be the difference between life and death.
In fact, drowning is the leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 1-4, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.
Unlike some TV or movie depictions of drowning, there's no big splash, no screaming, no crying. "Their little bodies just slip right in," Zieg said. "In 90 seconds, a young child is unconscious."
That's why she promotes a concept called "water watchers," in which one parent or other adult commits to a 15-minute shift complete with a water watcher tag. For those 15 minutes, the designated parent is fully focused on watching the children in the group. There's no drinking or eating, talking on the phone, or even socializing with the parent in the neighboring beach chair.
"You never know how quickly it could happen," Zieg said. "If there is water, you have to have someone dedicate that time to the kids."
She also advises caregivers to be aware of all water in the vicinity, including neighborhood lakes or retention ponds.
It's all about watching and constantly scanning, Zieg said. If parents are constantly checking for those children, they'll notice more quickly when one is missing.
Zieg admits it's impossible for parents to monitor their children every second of the day, so she recommends creating layers of protection to include:
. Installing self-closing and self-latching gates around the swimming pool.
. Teaching children - even infants and toddlers - how to swim.
. Removing toys from in and around the pool so children aren't tempted to reach into the pool.
. Emptying inflatable or baby pools.
. Always checking the water first (even bathtubs and toilets) when kids are missing. Zieg said she wasted precious seconds looking for Brayden in the house when she should have checked the pool first.
. Just as you teach your children to hold your hand when crossing the street, teach them not to go near water without a parent or other adult. Have your child sign a water safety pledge. "You never know what layer you're going to need until you do," Zieg said. "The more you do, the better."
Pool covers can offer another layer of safety for swimming pools, industry experts say. Katie Windmueller of Charleston-based Pool Cover Solutions-SE has six grandchildren, so she knows you have to watch kids carefully around the water. Concerns about safety are the biggest selling point for the automatic and manual pool covers she's been selling since 1991.
The automatic covers are key-operated and can close up tight in less than 45 seconds, offering year-round safety, Windmueller said.
Be wary of rip currents
Here on the coast, Lowcountry families spend plenty of time at local beaches, where parents need to be just as diligent about safety.
One potential risk of ocean swimming is rip currents, a channel of water that flows out into the ocean. Rip currents can be strong and fast, moving up to 8 miles an hour, easily pulling swimmers away from the shore. Take note of clues that rip currents could be present, such as churning or choppy water, a break in the wave pattern, or a different water color.
Should you get caught in a rip current, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission offers these tips to get out safely:
. Don't panic.
. Do not try to swim against the current.
. Swim along the shoreline to get out of the rip.
. Swim back to the shore diagonally (away from the rip).
. Wave for help if you are in trouble.
Charleston County provides lifeguards at public beach parks on Folly Beach, Kiawah Island and the Isle of Palms. They are on duty daily through mid-August. Swim in areas monitored by lifeguards and obey the posted signs and flags at the lifeguard stands, which warn of potential dangers.
Apply - and reapply - the sunscreen
Nothing puts a damper on a day at the beach like a painful sunburn. Instead of investing in a gallon of aloe, take some precautions to avoid sunburns, which are not only painful but put children at risk for skin cancer later in their lives. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Some sun safety tips from medical experts:
. Babies under 6 months should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Their skin is not protected by melanin, so cover their skin completely when outside. Protect the baby's head with a wide-brimmed hat or bonnet. If you're outdoors, use a stroller with a canopy, or put babies under an umbrella.
. It is safe to apply sunscreen to babies 6- to 12-months old. Use a broad-spectrum, SPF 15+ sunscreen to areas left uncovered, such as the baby's hands.
. Sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating.
. Dress toddlers and preschoolers in long-sleeved, unbleached cotton clothing. Selecting clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (30+) provides added protection from the sun.
. Select a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher. And don't forget wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
. Don't let you teenager talk you into letting them visit a tanning salon. The intensity of the UV radiation received in a tanning parlor may be as much as 15 times that of the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
. Sunglasses aren't just a cute summertime fashion accessory for children: They also provide added protection for their sensitive eyes. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, children under age 10 are at a high risk for skin and eye damage from ultraviolet rays. The skin on their eyelids and around their eyes is more delicate and vulnerable than adult skin.
. Sunglasses should block 99 to100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Because children will be running, jumping, and probably falling, avoid glass lenses and instead look for plastic lenses that are impact-resistant and scratch-proof. Also make sure the sunglasses fit snugly to the face.
Bike safety includes wearing a helmet
Summertime and bikes go hand in hand. Kids are cruising their neighborhoods, and older children may even be biking to a summer job or a friend's house in a nearby subdivision. Even though it's great exercise and a fun way for kids to get around, hundreds of children are injured in bicycle accidents each year.
The most important precaution is to wear a bike helmet. According to Safe Kids, helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent - yet only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet.
Parents also need to make sure their child's helmet fits properly for the best protection. Kids grow quickly, so a helmet that fit fine last summer might need to be replaced this year. To see if a helmet is sized correctly,
Position the helmet on your child's head. The rim of the helmet should be one to two fingers above the eyebrows.
Make sure the strap of the helmet forms a "V" under the child's ears when it is buckles. It should fit snugly, but comfortably.
Have your child open their mouth as wide as possible and feel for tightness. If it's not snug, tighten the straps.
More cycling safety tips for you and your kids:
. Always wear bright, light or white clothing, and avoid baggy or loose clothes.
. Use reflective lights at dusk or night.
. Tuck shoelaces to prevent tangling in the bike.
. Always stop at the end of the driveway, and at stop signs, and look for cars. Look to the left, right, and left again before entering the road or intersection.
. Obey the road rules, including yielding to people walking and signaling before turning.
. Ride with the traffic on the right hand side of the road, and ride single-file in traffic.
. Watch for potholes, rocks, and other hazards.
. Always check to make sure helmet and bike are working properly.
. Be aware of weather. Rainy weather requires extra stopping distance.
. Never grab moving vehicles to be pulled while riding.
. Never wear headphones.
. Attend a bike safety class.
Source: Safe Kids Worldwide
Hot cars are deadly
Last year, 44 U.S. children died from heatstroke while left in a vehicle - one of the worst years on record. Since 1998, more than 600 children have died under similar circumstances, and nearly 90 percent were age 3 or younger, according to Safe Kids Worldwide.
Even attentive parents and caregivers can get distracted or forget about a sleeping baby in the backseat.
"Many people are shocked to learn that the temperature inside of a car can rise up to 20 degrees in 10 minutes, and cracking a window doesn't help," Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, noted in a news release.
Parents are urged to "look before they lock," or to put needed items - such as a purse, phone, employee badge, or laptop bag - in the backseat, which forces them to check the backseat before leaving the car.
Other tips for parents include:
Keep a stuffed animal in your child's car seat. Place it in the front seat as a reminder you are traveling with your baby.
Make it a routine to open the back door of your car every time you arrive at your destination to make sure no one has been left behind.
Put a large smiley face on the front passenger seat as another reminder there's a child in the car.
Stay safe on golf carts
Here in the Lowcountry, golf carts aren't just for golf courses. They are commonly used in neighborhoods, communities and beach resorts. According to state law, only licensed drivers age 16 and older can drive a golf cart. Owners also must obtain a permit for their golf cart from the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
Golf cart users should also remember these safety tips:
. Drivers should read all directions and safety rules posted on the golf cart before operating.
. Obey basic driving etiquette: Never drive recklessly, never drive distracted, obey all vehicle traffic laws and rules of the road.
. Golf carts should be equipped with seat belts for the driver and all passengers.
. Only operate the golf cart with the correct number of passengers.
. Keep hands and feet inside the golf cart at all times. Do not allow anyone to ride standing in the vehicle or on the back platform of the vehicle. Do not put vehicle in motion until all passengers are safely seated inside.
. Use correct hand signals. Always use hand signals to indicate your intent to turn due to the small size and limited visibility of the turn signals on a golf cart.
. Avoid sharp turns at high speeds and drive straight up and down slopes to reduce the risk of passenger ejections or rollover. Avoid excessive speed, sudden starts, stops and fast turns.
. When not operating the golf cart, be sure to remove key and store safely. Do not leave keys in golf cart while unattended, and make sure the parking brake is set.
Source: Children's Trust of South Carolina, scchildren.org
Guns and kids don't mix
About 35 percent of U.S. children ages 18 and under live in homes with least one handgun or firearm. And with children home more during the summer, it's critical to ensure they understand gun safety, and that firearms are locked away and out of their reach. Keep in mind that nearly all childhood accidental shooting deaths occur in or near a home. With this in mind, here are some gun safety tips:
. Talk to your child about gun safety and teach them to never play with guns.
. Tell your children if they see a gun to leave the area and tell an adult.
. Supervise kids with pellet and BB guns, because they can still injure and kill children.
. Always keep your gun locked and unloaded, and store ammunition separately.
. Always use trigger locks.
. Hide gun cabinet keys where children cannot find them.
. Never let children know where guns are stored.
. Never let children handle a gun while unattended - not even for a second. LCP
Source: Dee Bien, Trident Health