Accidental drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young children. Swimming lessons may seem like the best way to prevent drowning. But, organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends "layers of protection," meaning that parents must think beyond swimming skills to other ways they can promote water safety.
The AAP emphasizes the importance of teaching children how to swim. There has been controversy, though, as to what age lessons should start. Originally, the AAP held the position that children are not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons before the age of four and that parents should not feel secure about their children's swimming ability if they enroll them in swim classes at an early age.
But, new evidence has led the AAP to adopt the viewpoint that children aged 1-4 may be less likely to drown if they have taken swimming lessons. Ultimately, it is up to the parents to decide whether their young children are emotionally and physically ready to begin formal classes with a swim instructor.
In its policy statement, the AAP recommends "touch supervision." This means parents should always be within an arm's length when their children are in or around water. "One of the most important things parents need to know is that you always stay with your child in the water," says Jean Coile, aquatics director at the YWCA in Asheville, North Carolina, who teaches swimming lessons to children as young as six months old.
Danger in the Backyard
Tragically, many children under the age of five drown in their own backyard pools. "The single most effective way to prevent your children from drowning in the pool is to fence the pool in so that it is separate from the yard, the house, and the play area," advises Patti Rhynders, director of injury prevention programs at Children's Medical Center of Dallas She goes on to explain that small children are often not able to transfer what they learn in swimming lessons to a situation in which they enter the pool unexpectedly. Rhynders warns that because toddlers are top heavy they are in danger of being pulled in by their own weight if they lean over the water. "It takes as little as three seconds for a child to fall in the water," says Rhynders.
If you have a pool,
Rhynder recommends establishing these barriers to prevent children from getting to the water:
- Enclose pool with a non-climbable fence (4-5 feet high).
- Attach self-closing, self-latching gates to fences, and make sure gates open outward. (Toddlers try to open things by pushing on them).
- Place locks on windows and doors leading to a pool (or hot tub area).
- Seal off doggy doors leading to a pool area.
- Use a rigid pool cover.
- Equip pool with shepherd's hook and lifesaving rings.
- Keep a telephone near the pool.
Get training in
and infant CPR.
The AAP offers these additional safety guidelines:
- Supervise your children at all time when they are around water. Bathtubs, wading pools, and even buckets can pose safety risks for young children.
- Always remain within arm's reach of a child who is swimming.
- Do not use swim aids, like inflatable arm bands, as they can deflate.
- If you are taking your children to a beach or lake to swim, be sure that there is a lifeguard on duty.
The bottom line is that there is no way to "drown proof" your child. But, there are "layers of protection," like swimming lessons and pool safety measures, that can lower your child's risk of drowning.