Q: When can my child start swim lessons?
Swimming is an important skill that can help protect children from drowning, so I’m always glad to have parents make lessons a priority. Because children develop at different rates and have varying comfort levels with being in the water, kids may be ready for swim lessons at different ages. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says children may be ready for swim lessons as early as 1 year old and that most children will be ready by age 4.
One study found that children between the ages of 1 and 4 had a lower risk of drowning when they were enrolled in formal swim lessons. However, the study was small and the AAP doesn’t recommend mandatory lessons for this age group. Lessons for children under 1 year old are not recommended as there’s no evidence it lowers their risk of drowning. It’s totally fine, however, to enroll them in a water play class to help them get used to the pool.
One critical thing to remember is that swim lessons are just one of several layers of protection needed to help prevent drowning. Children should be constantly supervised by an adult when they are in or near water. The adult should not be distracted by conversation or technology or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Infants, toddlers, and weak swimmers should be no more than an arm’s length away.
Should families live in a place with a pool, physical barriers are also key. Pools should be surrounded by a fence on all four sides. Alarms on gates, windows, and doors that lead to the pool can provide added security. Surface or wave alarms are another option. Drain covers on pools and hot tubs should be compliant with the Pool and Spa Safety Act to prevent a swimmer from being trapped under water.
When choosing an open body of water for kids to swim in it’s important to look for a site with lifeguards. Kids should be taught not to jump or dive in unless a knowledgeable adult has confirmed the water is deep enough and that there aren’t any hazards. It’s not uncommon for families to require children wear life jackets in any outdoor body of water. And everyone—kids and adults—should wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket on boats and docks.
Finally, Northwest beaches require all of us to stay humble. Sneaker waves can appear without warning. Tides can come in more quickly than people realize. To stay safe, it’s important for beach-goers to stick close to their kids and always keep an eye on the ocean.
The AAP offers more swim safety tips on its website and is a good place to learn more. Swim lessons are great exercise and valuable part of water safety. However it’s important to always be vigilant when kids are near the water, no matter how strong of swimmers they become.
Dr. Calvin Chen is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. He believes in offering the best medical advice to families while keeping patients’ unique needs in mind.