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Should my child take swim lessons?

July 31, 2013

Summer is in full swing, and many families in central Florida are heading to the pool or the beach to cool off. While you are having fun with your family, it’s important to use layers of protection to help keep your children safe when they are playing in or near the water.

Drowning rates in children have decreased over the past 20 years, but drowning is still the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19 years old. Toddlers and teenage boys are at greatest risk for drowning.

As a pediatrician and a mother, a common question that I am asked is “when should my child start taking swimming lessons?” In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has discouraged swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 3 years old because there was little scientific evidence that showed that swim lessons would prevent drowning or resulted in better swim skills. There was also a concern that parents would not supervise their children as closely after having swim lessons.

In the new policy that was updated last year, the AAP reinforces the existing recommendation that most children age 4 or older should take swimming lessons, and it is also more open toward classes for younger children. New evidence shows that children ages 1 to 4 years old may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swim lessons. However, since these studies are small and don’t define what type of lessons work the best, the AAP has not recommended mandatory swim lessons for all children. Since children develop at different rates, not all children will be ready to swim at the same age.

The most important thing to remember is that no types of swim lessons can “drown-proof” a child. Close parental supervision is essential when children are near water, and parents should also know how to perform CPR. An adult should always be within an arm’s length. A four-sided fence around a pool is also important, because a fence that completely surrounds the pool (isolating it from the house) can decrease drowning risk by half.

You can teach your baby or toddler to love the water, but your child always needs an adult present at all times to prevent drowning. Swim lessons can be a part of overall protection from drowning, and parents should also use constant supervision and pool barriers.

How about your kids? Are you planning to give your children swim lessons this summer?