Keeping Kids Safe Near Rivers and Streams

When I was 2 years old I was picnicking with my family in the mountains. My Mom was tending to my baby brother in the truck, my Dad was with my older siblings, each thought the other also had an eye on me. They found out I was playing down by the stream alone only when they heard me scream and saw me fall in. The water was about 4-5 feet deep. I was keeping my head mostly above water by flailing my arms. I was eventually able to grab onto a thick willow and keep myself afloat until my Dad could scrabble down the steep bank an rescue me.

I think of this story a lot. About how the outcome could have been different. About how the outcome was different for these kids. I just can’t imagine…

My kids are near water a fair amount, especially in the spring when water levels are high due to extra rain and snow melt. While playing near high water is good for me, it’s not necessarily the best place for aspiring rock skippers (aka, my kids). Being a kayaker I know first hand the power of water. I’ve learned (at times the hard way) to respect it, and I think this has made me more of a safety cop when my kids are around it.

If you’re going to be near rivers and streams (especially this time of year) here are a few things to consider in order to stay safe:

  1. Water looks like it is slower than it is.  Don’t be lured into thinking that a mild eddy near shore is a safe place to let your child play with little oversight.  Moreover, understand that a child that falls into water that looks slow, may be far from where he or she can be easily rescued faster than you imagined.
  2. Even if your child knows how to swim they are no match for hypothermia. Spring water is cold, and the shock of cold can quickly erase from a child’s mind last summer’s swimming lessons.
  3. No matter how stupid life jackets look, or no matter how much of a fuss your kids make when wearing them, they save lives!  Don’t think that because it is lunch time on your sunny float down the local canal, that you can take them off. Note: I had my 2 year old son ‘practicing’ wearing his well before his first ‘river trip’.
  4. Explain to your kids beforehand the risks associated with water. Set clear rules and boundaries.  Stick to them—show your children that you are serious when it comes to water.
  5. Make sure you know where your kids are at all times. As parents, make a game plan beforehand; decide who will be watching who and don’t, at any time during your turn as lifeguard, look at your cell phone.

Although bodies of water can be dangerous, by no means does that mean you shouldn’t get out and stroll along a stream. Use it as an opportunity to introduce some water safety 101.

And as always, if you have additional tips, please leave a comment.

8 Comments so far

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  1. Andree'

    Thank you Linds.

  2. Well written, outsidemom.

  3. Trieste

    We just drove to Denver and the Colorado was raging. We saw a bunch of trucks with surf boards. Do peoLe surf the river?

    • Trieste – First of all, jealous you got to see the Colorado river. Secondly, yes they do! They generally use the same waves kayakers surf, it’s crazy. You should have followed them and watched!

  4. […] a  place that has crawdads. Lake, stream, river, canal etc. (ideally the water will be clear enough to see the […]

  5. […] When it comes to kids and water I only have two steadfast rules. Make sure each kid has a life jacket and make sure they know how to stay safe near water. […]


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia