While it is of utmost importance to be aware of and mitigate potential hazards in and around the swimming pool environment, one of the key factors in drowning prevention for all parents is teaching their children to swim.
Historically, that means waiting until they were at least 4 or 5 years old, but today some experts advise that younger children should be taught survival-swimming skills to make sure they are safe if they get in the water.
Although it is still thought that most children are not developmentally ready for formal swimming lessons — in which they can learn to swim well on their own — until they are at least 4 years old, the American Association of Pediatrics now states that some swimming instruction may help lower the risk of drowning for younger children between the ages of 1 and 4.
While the AAP stops short of actually recommending swim lessons for all toddlers and preschoolers under 4, the group now states that parents should enroll their kids if they think that the “benefits of infant or toddler water programs outweigh any possible dangers.”
These possible dangers of early swimming lessons include the fact that it makes some parents believe that their children are drownproof, which can put kids at increased risk for drowning. There is also a concern that early swimming lessons can reduce an infant or toddler’s fear of the water, making them more likely to go near or in the water without supervision. The American Red Cross also has an optional recommendation that “young children may optionally start swim lessons for the purpose of building aquatic readiness and water acclimation on an individual basis any time after the first or second year of life.”
These early swim lessons teach basic survival skills, including the ability to:
• Right oneself after falling into the water.
• Proceed a short distance in the water, such as to the side of the pool.
• Float or tread water until someone can pull them out of the water.
Parents who choose this type of survivalswimming skills training — or regular swim lessons, for that matter — can find classes at their local YMCA, American Red Cross Chapter, and private swimming resource providers.
Learning survival-swimming skills or enrolling in a toddler aquatic program can be a good idea for some younger children, but it is certainly not the only way to keep your kids safe around the water.
The best way to prevent drowning is always to supervise children around the water, childproof your pool, and make sure they always wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device when they are in or around the water.
But remember that even when every precaution is taken, accidents can happen. That is why it is best to use a “layers of protection” method to keep children safe around the water.
Using multiple types of child safety practices means that if one protective layer breaks down, then one of the other layers of protection will still be in place.
For example, if someone leaves the back door of the house open and a toddler accesses the backyard, then a fence or a safety cover is still on the job of keeping the child out of the pool.
Experts now consider learning survivalswimming skills to be the last layer of protection keeping their kids safe.
If all of the other layers break down and a child ends up in the water, then hopefully those survival-swimming skills will keep them from drowning until help arrives.