AAP’s new water safety guidelines recommend swim lessons at age 1

Photos courtesy of Hubbard Family Swim School.

In time for National Water Safety Month in May, the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its water safety guidelines to recommend swimming lessons for children ages 1 and older as a drowning-prevention measure. Previously, the AAP recommended swim classes for ages 4 and up, which many swim-school advocates considered too late.

“Needless to say, all of us at Hubbard Family Swim School and the U.S. Swim School Association are ecstatic and excited to have the support of pediatricians taking a more active role in speaking with parents of young children about the importance of water safety,” said Kathy Hubbard, co-founder of Hubbard Family Swim School and Hubbard Sports Camps, which operate programs in Phoenix, Peoria and Mesa.

However, she added, “We continue to emphasize to all parents that swim lessons are just one part of keeping everyone safer. We believe that our students are safer around water — but they are never safe around water.”

“Research has found that swim lessons are beneficial for children starting around age 1, and may lower drowning rates,” the AAP’s Dr. Linda Quan, a co-author of the new guidelines, said in a statement. “Learning to swim is a great family activity. 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 also should teach ‘water competency’ — the ability to get out of the water if your child ends up in the water unexpectedly.”

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Hubbard Family Swim School lesson.

Beyond safety considerations, early swimming offers other benefits, Hubbard says. “In 2013 we were part of a study of 7,000 children, conducted by Australia’s Griffith University, that showed children who consistently participated in structured swim lessons were testing one year to 15 months ahead of non-swimming peers cognitively, verbally and physically. These results were evident across socio-economic lines.”

The AAP recommends parents take several measures (called layers of prevention) to make a child’s environment safer. For homes with a pool, the most important safety measure is a four-sided fence that completely surrounds the pool and isolates it from the house. The AAP also recommends:

  • Never leave children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas or other open water
  • Empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use
  • Never leave young children alone in the bathroom.
  • Use toilet locks, which can prevent drowning accidents involving toddlers
  • When infants or toddlers are in or around the water, a supervising adult with swimming skills should be within an arm’s length, providing constant “touch supervision.”
  • Even with older children and better swimmers, at least one supervising adult should focus entirely on the children and not be engaged in any other possibly distracting activities — including cell phone use.

“Water is everywhere, and we need multiple layers to protect children from the deadly risks it poses,” said Quan. “As pediatricians, we cannot overlook this risk. Pediatricians can help by counseling families and working in their communities to improve safety, especially around pools, lakes and in boating communities.”

The AAP is a group of about 67,000 pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists nationwide. Learn more at healthychildren.org