Over the course of the just-concluded summer break, you may have enrolled your child in swimming lessons. Don’t think, however, that a successful dog paddle is prevention from drowning. In fact, experts say it is dangerous to assume so. Their advice: never, ever let your child leave your eyesight when he is in the water.
“Swimming programs for youngsters under 4 shouldn’t really be considered a drowning prevention strategy,” Barbara Morrongiello, a professor at the University of Guelph in Canada who studies parent safety practices and drowning prevention, told Slate. “Mostly, what these lessons do is prepare the child for swimming by making them comfortable in the water—getting their face wet, going under the water—and teaching them some rudimentary skills,” she added.
Surviving a near-drowning requires more than what your toddler can learn at swim school. Because a young child has more growing and developing to do, she may not yet be able to react accordingly when a real drowning danger is present. “Swimming competency is but one of the many physical and cognitive competencies needed to prevent drowning,” Kevin Moran, a lifeguard and drowning researcher at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, also told Slate.
One key ability needed to prevent drowning is to avoid panicking and stay focused when you know you’re going under the water. It’s something parents cannot rely on children to be able to do. Another is the ability to hold your breath for a long time. “Children are not ready for formal swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday. That’s because they cannot voluntarily hold their breath for significant amounts of time until that age,” said the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
When in the water, drowning isn’t the only risk either. Children are exposed to germs and bacteria that can lead to illnesses and infection. It's a concern as “babies, in particular, tend to swallow the water they're swimming in,” said the Washington Post. Plus, being in cold water for too long is not good for infants as well. “You have to watch out for hypothermia,” said Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The AAP recommends that parents do not enroll children who are below 1 year old in swimming lessons. At young ages, swim classes are “a form of enjoyment and bonding as oppose to a water safety program.” It added, “Swimming lessons are not a way to prevent drowning in young children.”
We've featured a few chilling stories of kids who drown within a few feet of adults. In the U.S., drowning is the top cause of death due to injury in children age 1 to 4.Don’t take any risks even if your child can swim. Remember many who drown don't make splashes or scream for help. An adult should always be at arm’s length when a baby or toddler is in the water, said the AAP. As opposed to what you see on TV, drowning is often silent. Be prepared as well, learn child CPR. More swimming safety tips can be found here.
And if you’re thinking of enrolling your baby or toddler in a swim class, the AAP recommends talking it over with your child’s doctor to find out if your little one is developmentally ready for it. Learn more tips on finding the right swim school for young kids in the video below from the AAP: