Can Swimming Lessons Prevent Drowning?

Infant taking a survival swim lesson in a pool

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Many people are concerned about the risks of drowning when their kids are near water. They may secure their pool, have their kids wear a life jacket, supervise them around the water, and even get them early swimming lessons.

Still, drowning is the number one cause of unintentional death in children ages 1 to 4 in the U.S. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children this age than any other cause except congenital abnormalities. That makes it important to be aware of drowning hazards in and around your home.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol while swimming, boating, or supervising kids in the water.
  • Be aware of drowning hazards in and around your home, including toilets, buckets of water, and pet water bowls.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Put environmental protections in place, such as four-sided pool fencing to separate a backyard swimming pool from the house.
  • When in, on, or near bodies of water, kids should always wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (whether or not they can swim).

And of course, it is important to teach your kids to swim.

AAP Swim Lesson Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends swim lessons for all children and their parents. Lessons are another layer of water-safety protection.

"Recent studies suggest that water survival skills training and swim lessons can help reduce drowning risk for children between ages one and four," the AAP says. "Classes that include both parents and their children also are a good way to introduce good water safety habits and start building swim readiness skills."

To determine if your young child is ready for swim lessons, the AAP recommends considering your child's emotional maturity, physical abilities, interest in swimming, and comfort level around water. This is usually by age 4, if not earlier. These early swim lessons teach basic survival skills, including the ability to:

  • Float or tread water until someone can pull them out of the water
  • Proceed a short distance in the water, such as to the side of the pool
  • Right oneself after falling into the water

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations echo those of the AAP. The CDC highlights four strategies for drowning prevention: swimming skills, fencing for backyard pools, life jackets, and close supervision.

Where to Find Classes

Parents who choose this type of survival swimming skills training can likely find classes at their local YMCA, American Red Cross Chapter, and private infant aquatic and infant swimming resource providers. The American Red Cross offers swim classes for infants, children, teens, and adults.

Avoid Water Safety Mistakes

Learning survival swimming skills or enrolling in a toddler aquatic program can be a good idea for some younger children, but it is not the best way to keep your kids safe around the water. The best way to prevent drowning is to supervise your kids around the water, securely enclose your pool, and make sure your kids always wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device when they are in or around the water.

It is also important to avoid common water safety mistakes, such as:

  • Allowing easy access to your pool or spa, without an isolation pool fence (a fence that is at least 4 feet tall around the pool with self-closing and self-latching gates)
  • Leaving the ladder in an above-ground pool
  • Letting older kids swim alone, even if they can swim well; they should use the buddy system and always swim with a friend
  • Installing a chain-link fence or short fence (too easy to climb) or using your house as the fourth side of a fence around your pool, allowing access to the pool through a door or window from the house
  • Leaving kids alone in or around the water, even for just a few minutes
  • Not looking in the water first when a child is missing
  • Not teaching your child to swim
  • Overlooking water hazards in and around your home, such as ponds, hot tubs, and even the bathtub
  • Using floaties as a replacement for a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device

Even when you try to avoid mistakes and do everything right, accidents can happen. That is why it is best to use a "layers of protection" method to keep your kids safe around the water.

Using more than one type of child safety technique as a protection against drowning means that if one protective layer breaks down, then one of the other layers of protection will still be in place to keep your kids safe. For example, if someone leaves the back door of the house open and your toddler gets in the back yard, then you still have a fence keeping your child out of the pool.

Some parents consider learning survival swimming skills to be the last layer of protection keeping their kids safe. If all of the other layers break down and your child ends up in the water, then hopefully those survival swimming skills will keep them from drowning until you can pull them out of the water.

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3 Sources
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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Drowning prevention for curious toddlers: What parents need to know. Updated March 15, 2019.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Swim lessons: When to start and what parents should know. Updated March 15, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning prevention. Updated February 6, 2019.