Many parents are rightfully concerned about water safety and eager to sign their little ones up for swimming lessons this summer. But what age is the right age to start?
Best Age to Begin Swimming Lessons
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that parents hold off on formal swimming lessons until children are four years old, when they are developmentally able to learn the skills needed for true water safety.
Children cannot voluntarily hold their breath for a prolonged period of time until after age 4.
Developmental Readiness for Water Safety
Infants and toddlers lack the developmental readiness for true water safety.
Even if an infant learns to “float”, they lack the physical coordination or emotional maturity needed for water safety during the critical toddler and preschool years. In a true emergency, young children are likely to panic, even if they have had water survival training.
Physically, little bodies are rapidly changing with new muscle and bone growth, and they lack the motor coordination needed for true swimming skills.
Emotionally, toddlers have poor impulse control and lack judgment. A toddler may feel so comfortable in the water that he thinks he can swim alone by himself, when he absolutely should not.
What about Infant Swimming Classes or Drown Proofing Classes?
The water-survival skills programs for infants make for compelling videos for television and the Internet – adorable babies who calmly flip over and float in a pool.
Programs such as Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) market themselves as successful and necessary — even though young children are not developmentally ready for such skills. No scientific study has yet demonstrated these classes are effective.
Infants and toddlers who learn to float are unlikely to sustain long enough to prevent drowning, and the skill is not a substitute for adult supervision.
Parents should never feel comfortable when young children are around a pool – even if a child has successfully completed an infant swim program. Baby swimming classes may actually create a false sense of security for both parent and child.
If your child does participate in these programs, they will still need formal swimming lessons as they get older.
Try Water Play Programs for Infants and Toddlers
The goal for infants and toddlers should be comfort and fun in the water, not swimming, until the child is physically, emotionally, and intellectually ready.
Until age four, parents should consider a parent-child program that focuses on water games, swimming-readiness skills, and general safety in and around the pool.
In your pool or water program, play fun games that require moving arms, kicking legs, and floating with adult support on stomach or back. Show your child how to blow bubbles in the water while making a ‘balloon face’ so he’ll learn how to get his face wet without swallowing water.
Water Safety Facts
Drowning is the leading cause of injury death for young children ages 1 to 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 19 percent of drowning deaths involving children occur in public pools where lifeguards are present.
An infant can drown in as little as an inch of water in less than 30 seconds, so beware of all water hazards, including inflatable baby pools, buckets, toilets, and tubs.
For young children, it is not the swimming ability of the child, but the attentiveness and vigilance of the adult supervision that is the key to drowning prevention. Pool fences and constant adult monitoring are they only ways to reduce the drowning incidents.
Tips for Water Safety with Young Children
- Never leave a child alone, even for a minute. Whenever infants and toddlers are in or around water, an adult should always be within an arm’s length.
- Make sure the pool gate is always closed and the lock is out of reach.
- Stress basic pool safety, like not running near the pool and only going into the water with Mommy or Daddy.
- Avoid water wings and inflatable flotation toys. If you want to use a flotation device, buy a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
- Don’t leave toys in the pool. Children may be tempted to reach for them unsupervised
- Never force a child to go underwater. Children under age 3 can swallow a large amount of water — enough to dilute the chemicals in their blood, causing sleepiness, nausea, and seizures. In rare cases, water intoxication can be fatal.
- Use a swim diaper to prevent fecal matter from going into the pool — a major health risk for other swimmers.
- Keep rescue equipment — for example, a plastic ring buoy, a reaching pole, a first-aid kit, and a portable phone — near the pool.
- Practice “reach supervision” by being in the water and within reaching distance.
- Never assume someone else is watching, even if a lifeguard is present.