The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently updated it policy on swimming lessons for toddlers. Until now the AAP advised against swim lessons for children under four. However, in light of studies that show that children ages one to four are less likely to drown if they receive formal swim instruction, the AAP has revised its recommendation. A news release on the AAP website now states that, for children one to four years old, “Parents should decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health concerns. . .” That sound you hear is thousands of swim instructors giving each other a big high-five! Don’t tell us toddlers can’t learn to swim. We all have stories of a toddler we taught to swim falling into grandma’s pool on Thanksgiving and getting himself to safety.
Drowning is the leading cause of death in children under five – number two in children ages one to nineteen, with toddlers and teenage boys most at risk. It is true that each child learns to swim at his own pace based on many factors including general temperament and ability, the attitude of his or her parents and past experience with the water. Early exposure to swim lessons allows a toddler to develop his ability in the water as well as on land. Everyone in Southern California is exposed to water more than we realize. Even if there is not a pool in our own backyard, the neighbors have one. Plus there are community pools, parks, lakes and rivers. Many people now have inexpensive, large, inflatable pools that can be up to four feet deep. Waiting until a child is four or older only prolongs the length of time they are at risk by not knowing how to save themselves in the water. A good swim program will not only teach swimming, but also include a complete water safety program.
The AAP also warns, rightly so, that swim lessons are not enough to prevent drowning and emphasize “layers of protection”. The first and best “layer” is vigilant adult supervision around any water, including fountains and bathtubs. A child that knows how to swim is still vulnerable to injury. They also advise parents to learn CPR and completely fence backyard pools. Early swim lessons are another vital safety net to help prevent an emergency.