Why Every Parent Should Take Their Child To Swim Lessons
Bode and Morgan Miller lead by example after tragedy
Almost a year after their 19-month-old daughter drowned in a backyard pool, Bode and Morgan Miller brought their 6-month-old son to a swimming lesson.
Morgan Miller shared the emotional moment on her Instagram Stories Monday and her post has now gone viral, capturing the nation’s attention.
Hopefully, the post also reminds all parents of young children to take their child to swim lessons.
Drowning is the leading cause of injury death in U.S. children 1 through 4 years of age. It is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death among U.S. children and adolescents 5 through 19 years of age.
At Cook Children’s, last year was the worst on record after 79 children were treated for drowning, with 12 being fatal.
Nicole Wineriter, a Cook Children’s pediatrician in Keller, began swim lessons for her children when they were older infants, around age 1. Dr. Wineriter says, “I can’t say enough great praises about swim lessons.” At 5, one of her children could swim laps the length of the pool in three different strokes. Another child could swim under water for 10 seconds, traveling 10 feet and climb out of the pool by the age of 2.
“I’m a huge fan of swim lessons, if started at the appropriate time for each child,” Dr. Wineriter said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that research has found swim lessons are beneficial for children starting at around 1 and may lower drowning rates. The AAP continues that swim lessons are “increasingly available for a wide range of children, including those with various health conditions and disabilities like (autism spectrum disorder) ASD.”
“Learning to swim is a great family activity,” said Linda Quan, M.D., FAAP, co-author of the AAP’s policy statement. “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 should teach ‘water competency’ too – the ability to get out of the water if your child ends up in the water unexpectedly.’”
A parent or caregiver’s decision about when to begin swim lessons should be based on a variety of factors, according to the AAP, including comfort being in water, health status, emotional maturity, and physical and cognitive limitations.
Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children ages 1 to 4 years old, according to Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The USA Swimming Foundation found that there’s been a 5-10% improvement among children in overall swimming abilities over the past decade. But there’s still much work that needs to be done.
Nearly 64% of African-American children, 45% of Hispanic children and 40% of Caucasian children have no or low swimming ability, putting them at risk for drowning. A frightening find in the study is that 87% of swimmers with no or low ability planned to go to a swimming facility during the summer and 34% plan to go swimming at least 10 times during the season.
While extremely important, swim lessons are no guarantee that a child will be safe in the water.
“It is important that parents not feel secure that their child is safe in water or safe from drowning after children have participated in swim lessons,” Dr. Wineriter said. “Adequate ‘touch supervision’ is still recommended, meaning an adult should be within an arm’s length at all times.”
Swimming skills should be just one aspect of an overall drowning prevention strategy.
Parents should plan ahead for different circumstances:
Planned swim time: when everyone is planned to be in/around water – pool, open water, etc. Create safe habits, using WW Tags, in-reach supervision by an adult, wearing USCG approved life jackets if needed and clearing the swim area of children and their toys while transitioning inside or when swim time is over.
Unplanned swim time: when children and adults are not expected to be near the water, but may have access to it. This is where barriers are helpful, to prevent or limit access to the water area without an adult
Bath time: consider routines around bath time, which can be a very busy time of day or evening. Adults should give it their full attention and never leave a young child alone or with a sibling in the tub.
Drowning prevention around and away from the pool begins with adult supervision. Other steps parents can take at home to help protect their children from drowning once they get out of the pool include:
- Never take your eyes off of your child until you know he or she is safely in the house or car. Many of the drownings seen at Cook Children’s take place after children take off their life jackets and then jump back in the water while parents are getting ready to leave and don’t realize what has happened.
- Use alarms that can be put on children's wrists: These are child friendly bracelets that a child wears, and if submerged in water, an alarm goes off inside for the caregiver to act quickly.
- Install four-sided fences with self-latching gates. Four-sided isolation fencing around home pools could prevent 50 to 90 percent of childhood drowning and near-drowning incidents, according to studies.
- Make sure fences are at least 4 feet (preferably 5 feet) high with a self-closing/self-latching gate that only opens out.
- Reroute any doggie doors that have direct access to the pool area.
- Pool and spa covers should be sturdy enough to support the weight of a child or multiple children.
- Latches should be properly locked whenever you aren’t using the area.
- Make sure your locks to go outside are out of your child's reach.
- Use door and window alarms. Make sure to alarm any windows and doors that open directly into the pool area. Pool surface alarms are also a great option to alert if you if anyone falls into the pool. You can even put an alarm on your child that will alert if you he or she is submersed.
- Update pool drains and cleaning systems.
- Make sure your children know they aren’t allowed to swim without you being present.