Ask the pediatrician: Are swimming lessons necessary?

Swimming safety is important, especially for young children.


May 15, 2024 - 4:11 PM

Q: My children are comfortable in the water. Is it still necessary to enroll them in swim lessons?

A: Yes. Swimming is a great family activity. It’s good exercise and it can be a lifesaving skill to have. If you’re an adult that doesn’t know how to swim, sign up for adult swimming lessons.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends water safety and swim lessons for all children as a layer of protection against drowning.

Here are some other questions to consider and tips to follow:

— How many students are in each class? Check that the class size is small so your child can receive adequate attention.

— Ensure that the pool is clean. Ask if the swim program follows all CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting all equipment and surfaces.

Info-graphic on annual U.S. drowning deaths

Enrolling your children in swim lessons is definitely a good idea, but keep in mind that swimming skills are only one layer to help keep kids safe in and around water. It’s important to remember that swim lessons do not prevent all drownings.

Even though your child is in a swim lesson, be a water watcher — watch your child and watch for any child who may be in distress.

If you’re with children at the swimming pool or other body of water, watch them closely. Don’t be distracted with other activities such as reading. Pay close attention to them, even if they’ve taken swimming lessons.

Be attentive. When children are in the bathtub, never leave the room. Young children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water. Always stay within an arm’s reach of them. That way you can quickly grab them if they accidentally fall face down in the water.

Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CPR is a technique that helps someone breathe who isn’t breathing on their own. You may need to do CPR on someone if they’ve been saved from drowning. CPR classes are often offered for free at hospitals and fire departments. Ask your doctor for locations where you can take a class.

Everyone should learn to swim. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that water safety and swim lessons can begin for many children starting at age 1.

Use a life jacket. Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket when around water. These safety devices are created to help keep your head above the water so you can breathe correctly. Life jackets come in many styles, sizes, and colors.

Don’t use “floaties,” “noodles,” and other air-filled devices as life jackets. They’re not designed to always keep you above water.

Deciding when to start should be based on a variety of individual factors, including how often your child may be around water, your child’s emotional maturity, physical and developmental abilities and limitations, interest in learning to swim, and how comfortable he or she is in the water. Your pediatrician is a good resource to help know if your toddler is ready.

About the author: Dr. Phyllis Agran serves on the executive committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.

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