Wait, Kids Are Supposed to Learn How to Swim at Age One Now?

If your kids have been to a pool, lake, river or ocean this summer (if they haven’t, what are you waiting for?!) you’ve likely given thought to the best ways to keep them safe and sound (if not safe and dry) while swimming. Because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the leading cause of injury and death for children aged one to four. So when should your kids learn to swim? Apparently, the lessons need to begin early — much earlier than most of us may have thought. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should start swimming around the age of one.

If you’re a toddler parent who’s now staring wide-eyed and guiltily at your screen, you’re not alone. After all, one is super young — especially when you consider that, at that age, many children are still learning to stand and walk — but starting swimming lessons early can reduce a child’s risk of drowning, not only in pools or oceans but bathtubs, buckets and any free-standing body of water.

“Research has found that swim lessons are beneficial for children… and may lower drowning rates,” Linda Quan, MD, FAAP, a co-author of the AAP policy statement, said.

The AAP also advises parents and caregivers to never leave children alone in or near water, to empty all containers that are not in use, and to supervise kids — even older ones and good swimmers. Water Safety Magazine‘s Jenelle Lockard also suggests parents educate themselves about floats/flotation devices, as water wings can be dangerous.

“Because water wings are used on the upper arms, they prevent a child from using the correct swimming stroke or motion to move themselves through the water,” Lockard explains in her column, Just Add Water. “Plus, if a child raises their arms above their head, their head can sink down below the water’s surface, causing panic and…drowning if not watched.”

The recommendations come just months after reports confirmed 8,700 children younger than 20 years visited a hospital emergency department for a drowning event in 2017 — and 25 percent of those were hospitalized or transferred for further care. The AAP hopes additional training will help prevent swim-related accidents and deaths.

“Learning to swim is a great family activity,” Quan said. “Families can talk with their pediatrician about whether their child is developmentally ready for swim lessons, and then look for a program that has experienced, well-trained instructors. Ideally, programs should teach ‘water competency’ too — the ability to get out of the water if your child ends up in the water unexpectedly.”

For more information about pool and water safety, visit PoolSafely, a national public education campaign designed to reduce childhood drownings, submersion injuries and entrapments.

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