Lindsay Deuster, MD from Prevea Health shares swimming and water safety tips for kids.
Swimming Safety for Kids
While sometimes it seems it will never fully come… summer will officially be here soon. Along with summer comes our ever-so-sweet, but brief, Wisconsin outside swim season! Getting outside during the summer months to enjoy some fun in or by the water is what many of us look forward to.
Did you know drowning is a significant cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4 and teenagers 15-19? For this reason, I can’t stress enough that water safety is very important. Many drownings happen during non-swim or unexpected times; that’s why proper fencing or pool covers, and very close supervision is needed any time children are near water.
Learning to swim
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children and parents learn to swim. But how young should we introduce swimming to children? Anytime between ages 1 and 4 is a good time to start teaching children safe swim habits. The rationale behind early introduction to swimming is that it will carry over into adolescence and adulthood.
Babies and water
You may have heard that babies have some natural abilities to swim. Interestingly, before age 1, children may reflexively swim but they do not have the skills to keep their head above water. Babies younger than 1 can certainly be introduced to play in water if desired, but always with a caregiver.
Children of most ages can go in any type of water; however, babies 5 to 6 months old are developing better head and neck strength and support to make splashing in the water more fun. Be cautious of temperature as young infants do get colder much faster than toddlers and older children. Chlorine exposure for infants is also fine. In fact, chlorine limits their risk of infection.
Floaties and supervision
Flotation devices can be used with infants and children but do not guarantee safety. Except for certain types of coast guard-approved life jackets, flotation aids do not keep heads above the water. For all children under age 5, a supervising adult should be in arm’s reach, ideally in the water. Never leave children unattended near water. Children who are younger and are not strong swimmers should wear life jackets when they are near any water, such as oceans, rivers, lakes, or ponds.
Water safety and swim lessons
Between the ages of 1 and 4, kids can start to learn the basics of water safety (see below for tips), back floating, treading water, and how to get out of the pool. Ages 4 to 6 they can start to build more swimming endurance and learn swim strokes like the front crawl. Even if your child is older or you tried swimming lessons when they were younger that didn’t go well, it is never too late to learn to swim. Try again! Talk with your child about what they did or did not like about swim lessons. You may be able to use that information to find a better fit for them.
We are fortunate that Green Bay and our surrounding areas offer a lot of different options for swim lessons. Check out local Y programs, gyms, and recreation centers for lessons. Some of these places even offer private lessons if children are uncomfortable in groups.
Here’s another important thing to remember with living in Wisconsin… if a child has taken a long break from swimming, for example, minimal water exposure during the winter months, they may have regressed in their skills from the prior summer. In these cases, close adult supervision is required.
Note: Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended waiting until age 4 to 5 to start swim lessons, when children are stronger and more coordinated; however, realizing that accidental drownings happen in younger children has now changed the guidelines to start swim introduction earlier. Regardless of age, it is best to always swim with a buddy for enhanced safety.
Water safety tips
- Start swim lessons young—and continue over time.
- Always closely supervise young children when you are in or near water. Watch kids even when you are not actively swimming or you wouldn’t expect them to swim or get into nearby water. Avoid distractions like phones and books when you are in or near water.
- Drowning happens fast—so be within arm’s reach of or get in the water with young children.
- Avoid alcohol or other drug use when children are in or near water.
- In a party or group setting, be sure certain adults are designated as the “water watcher.” It is easy to assume someone else is watching the kids.
Click here for even more swim safety tips. https://www.prevea.com/For-Patients/Your-Wellness/Resources/swimming-safely If you have questions or concerns, you can always talk to your child’s doctor.
Author: Lindsay Deuster, MD
Dr. Deuster is a board-certified pediatrician at the Prevea East Mason Health Center. “I chose to go into pediatrics because I enjoy helping children be as healthy as possible while they grow and develop,” says Dr. Deuster. “I grew up in the Green Bay area, and enjoy caring for kids in my hometown.” Learn more about Dr. Deuster or schedule with her online: https://www.prevea.com/Providers/Lindsay-Deuster
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