Living in South Florida, we are constantly reminded of the dangers that swimming pools, canals, and lakes pose for our children. Not only as we approach summer, but year-round. As a state, Florida consistently leads the nation in annual toddler drowning deaths. But the threat to our nation’s children isn’t limited to Florida as Arizona frequently alternates with Florida for the number one and two places where children drown the most. This week in response to increased child drowning rates across the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised guidelines on drowning prevention and water safety, recommending that parents consider swimming lessons for most children between the ages of 1 and 4.
We recently enrolled our 20-month-old daughter, Briani in swimming classes. Many friends and family thought she was too young, and that she wouldn’t learn anything. Despite their feedback we figured the earlier we got her familiar with water safety, the better. We enrolled her in a 2 week swimming class with South Miami based, Ann’s Swimming School. Ann has been teaching swimming for over 40 years, so we knew that Briani would be in good hands. They have a second location in Cutler Bay. Initially Briani wasn’t too thrilled about the classes, and she spent the first few days crying when it was time to go in the water. Two weeks later she was going under water, climbing out along the edge, and having a blast. While she didn’t leave a professional swimmer, I feel that the classes helped her to understand basics from which she can continue to build.
While not everyone may be able to enroll their child in swimming classes, Ann has a few tricks and tips that anyone can use to help teach water safety to toddlers and children.
1) Pour water on their heads when bathing them. Despite the screaming and crying that you may first encounter when bathing your little one, you’re actually helping them to become comfortable with water. If your child were to fall into a pool, and had never had water on their faces, they will more than likely panic, freeze up and not be able to help themselves. If you teach your child to be afraid of water, then you are hindering their chances of survival and not helping them at all.
2) Swim with your baby when possible. Let them see you have fun in the pool, go under water and hang on to the ledge. If they get water in their face, or swallow a bit of water – don’t make a big fuss. And as cute as your baby is, turn them away from you so that they can get familiar with facing an empty pool. Remember, if they see you panic or freak out they’ll probably do the same thing.
3) Avoid using water wings, floating devices, and goggles in the pool. These types of devices can give your child a false sense of security, and a fearless child may jump into the pool without them. It’s better to help your child learn how to swim without having to rely on anything – or anyone. Additionally, Ann notes that wings put your child into in the wrong position in the water, giving them a “bicycle-type kick” or doggie-paddle position with their head up, which results in a lot of treading water without getting anywhere. This can be dangerous – at even less than a foot – if your child falls into the water and is trying to get to the edge for safety. When teaching swimming, they teach that the head has to go under water so that the body becomes horizontal for that perfect swim position. PLEASE NOTE: Children should always use life vests when on boats.
Same applies to goggles. It’s alright to let your child wear them as long as they know that they can open their eyes under water without them. If they fall in the pool, and don’t know to open their eyes, they may lose their bearings and not know how to get to safety.
4) Learn CPR. It’s critical that parents and caregivers learn infant and child CPR, or enroll in a local class. You can find a CPR training class near you through the American Heart Association, and some local organizations such as Miami-based The Oscar Project offer bilingual CPR training for parents, grandparents and caregivers.
5) Fence in your pool and block entryways to lakes and canals. While most parents invest in fencing for traditional in-ground pools, many often overlook fencing for small inflatable or child-size pools. When filled, these pools can pose a danger to inquisitive toddlers. If you live on a lake or near a canal, the same caution should be taken in blocking access to the water.
Another thing that Ann likes to point out is that the older children are (age 4 and older), when they begin taking swimming lessons then the more difficult it is for them to learn. The reason for this is that they – like adults – tend to become anxious about things that may scare them, like when they can’t touch the bottom of a pool. Younger children and toddlers don’t know the difference. Some parents may feel that their child isn’t ready to learn how to swim, or that water safety should only be stressed during summer months, but this isn’t just a summer activity – it’s a potentially life saving skill that can be used year-round!
Editor’s Note: This is a PapiBlogger Classic post, originally published in May 2010. We’ll be republishing classic content from the archives from time to time, updated — as this post has been — to be sure the advice is as relevant as ever.