Should Your Little Ones Dive Into Swimming Lessons?
With summer here, parents have been pooling their thoughts and asking me whether it is okay for their infants and toddlers to be enrolled in swimming classes. Well, let me dive right in and provide some information on these swim programs.
More than 5-10 million infants and toddlers participate in water instruction programs annually. Despite their popularity, it is important to remember that the main purpose of these programs is for young children and infants as young as 6 months of age to enjoy some fun time together with their parents, and not to teach these children how to swim or be safe. While there are a few small studies suggesting that children between the ages of 1 and 4 may be less likely to drown if they have had formal swimming instruction, the studies don't define what type of lessons work best, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is not recommending mandatory swim lessons for all toddlers.
Instead, parents should make the decision on enrolling young children over the age of one year in swim lessons based on a child's frequency of exposure to water, their physical abilities and emotional development, and any health conditions - such as someone who might be allergic to chemicals used in cleaning the water in swimming pools).. It is important to note that the AAP still does not recommend water safety programs for children less than one year of age. Why?
We know infants can experience hypothermia (body cooling), and infant swimmers could be prone to getting water poisoning from swallowing too much water, and/or can spread communicable diseases in the pool unless they are wearing very tight, waterproof diapers.
So what kinds of programs do I recommend for teaching toddlers how to get used to the water? I like programs that follow YMCA guidelines where instructors all know CPR and infants and toddlers are never submerged. Parents should also be CPR trained if they are going to have their little ones in the pool.
Speaking of supervision, never just depend on the instructors to supervise infants and toddlers in a pool. The parent role is critical. If you are taking your child into the water at any time, make sure you are within an arm’s length and able to touch the swimmer at all times - and that includes when your young child is in the bathtub. Remember that you cannot water-proof a young child, not even with water wings and swimming lessons.
Hopefully, tips like this will make a big splash when it comes to knowing how to keep your young child safe while having fun together in the water this summer.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids