May 24th, 2010
08:54 AM ET

Most kids under 4 should learn to swim, pediatricians say

By Sabriya Rice
CNN Medical Producer

Parents should consider swimming lessons for most children between ages 1 and 4, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges  in new guidelines on drowning prevention and water safety. The guidance is a change from previous recommendations.

“In light of new research that has revealed that swim instruction for children 1 to 4 years of age may decrease drowning, it is reasonable for the AAP to relax its policy regarding the age at which children should start learning water-survival skills,” the authors say in the report.

Previously, the AAP discouraged swimming lessons for this age group, noting a lack of evidence on whether these children were developmentally ready. The new guidelines, however, do not extend to all children under 4. The AAP still does not recommend swimming lessons before age 1, and says children with motor or cognitive disabilities may not be not be ready for swimming lessons until a later age.

Drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19, according to the AAP report. New data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissions finds children between the ages of 1 and 2 represent 47 percent of submersion injuries and 53 percent of fatalities for children younger than 15. In light of those statistics, the CPSC launched Poolsafety.gov as as an educational resource for parents, providing pool safety videos and links to resources on drowning prevention.

“Children need to learn to swim,” say the authors of the Pediatrics report. But they also warn parents not to equate swimming lessons with “drown proofing.” They recommend a multilayered safety approach because, as they note, even children with advanced swimming skills can still drown. Beside swimming lessons, here are three additional things parents can do:

Fence in your pool: Many parents do not consider putting fencing around large inflatable pools,the AAP says,  and because these pools are considered to be portable, they fall outside of many state regulations. The AAP recommends parents install a four-sided fence that is at least 4 feet high if you have any kind of pool in your back yard. The American Red Cross also offers a home pool maintenance class online to help you ensure your pool is set up properly. The two-hour class costs $19.95 and you receive a manual to keep at your home.

Learn CPR: According to the NIH, “all parents and those who take care of children should learn infant and child CPR if they haven't already.” But note that CPR recommendations vary by age group. You can find a CPR training class near you through the American Heart Association, and the National Institutes of Health has guidelines for performing CPR on children between the ages of 1 and 8.

Purchase the proper gear: The AAP warns against using inflatable swimming aids because they can easily lose air and they “are not designed to keep swimmers safe.” On the academy's  website, parents can view a list of the types of personal flotation devices approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (1,006 Responses)
  1. 1gn

    We lost our 23 month old son to drowning at a family member's pool while we were there visiting and no one was outside swimming. There are several things we have learned from this tragic experience.

    1) Although it may be expecting the impossible, always know exactly where your children are at a home that has a pool or body of water.

    2) All homes w/ pools must have some multi-layered pool protection (pool fence, door alarm, net, pool alarm). It just takes one door being left unlocked for a tragedy to occur for a visitor who thinks the home is safe.

    3)Infant water survival technique is a must! We had started teaching our son to swim, but a controlled envirnoment where everything is fun and easy does not condition a child to an accidental fall. I believe our son probably had a false sense of security in the water, and, when he unexpectedly fell in, his young mind did not know what to do.

    Drowning is the leading cause of death for children less than 10 years old in Florida. Our new baby will definitely be protected.

    May 27, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mary Jo

    Please make sure to read the ENTIRE policy statement made by the AAP.

    “However, the current evidence is insufficient to support a recommendation that all 1- to 4-year-old children receive swimming lessons. It must be stressed that even advanced swimming skills will not always prevent drowning and that swimming lessons must be considered only within the context of multilayered protection
    with effective pool barriers and constant, capable supervision.”

    I do believe that swimming lessons are another barrier that can help a parent when a child strays from the constant supervision that is necessary to keep a child safer from water related injuries. The AAP is very strongly stressing the need for a mutlilayered approach.

    May 30, 2010 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lorrie

    (from comment above) Let's clear something else up: Red Cross and YMCA have NEVER in all the years they have had programming, taught survival lessons, so they could not have discarded them. (need to know your facts before trying to make "factual" statements.)
    YMCA in Florida bought Harvey Barnett's methodology and put it in their centers a few years ago.

    Survival swimming is highly specialized and you must know what you are doing in order to teach it effectively and properly.
    My guess is that you had a bad experience with a bad instructor who taught survival, a fearful parent, or you are a swim instructor who does not know how to teach it properly. These are the three groups of people who bad mouth survival. I have watched so many kids become water safety trained and also love the water with this method. It can be taught with love, patience and a wonderful outcome. What is detestable is teaching children to love the water ( basic water adaptation classes) without teaching the child true life saving skills. That, my friend, is abuse.

    May 31, 2010 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Alexandra

    We are taking lessons with"swim to pete" in orange county. And in 10 minutes a day for 10 days our kids (2.5 and 4) can now swim!!!!;) this was our biggest point of anxiety and now we are safe and relaxed! Thanks pete.

    June 5, 2010 at 02:03 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Great post. Thanks for giving us very much important information. All the best from Swim Lessons

    July 15, 2010 at 05:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tracedaddy

    I have been teaching swim lessons for over 20 years and people just dont believe that small children can learn to swim. I had my son swimming before his second birthday. My daughter was a little harder the pool I was working at the time when she came along had a ramp in it so she learned early that pools had bottoms so she was not as motivated as he was to swim. My staff and I consistently teach small children to swim we usuall take them in our regular lesson program at age 4 but we also offer parent tot and parent preschool lessons and these kids get a great jump on the rest of the kids. We have also been working with some small special needs kids. We have one that is 4 with downs and he is doing great. It just takes patients and hard work. All kids need to learn to swim.

    October 4, 2010 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Sarah

    This is a great post. Starting swimming lessons at a young age is extremely important. Pool related accidents are still the #1 cause of death to children under age 5… this needs to be changed!!! If you have a home or housing community pool consider having an instructor come directly to your pool – not only is this convenient it allows your child to learn how to survive in YOUR pool (how to get out, what to reach for..). If you are in Southern California or the SF Bay Area, consider Sunsational Swim School – our Instructors are highly qualified professionals who use a gentle, child-centered approach.

    January 8, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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  11. Roxanne Phillips

    I agree with this. When my son was 3 he fell into the pool. It was the scariest moment of my life. Luckily I was right there and caught him but still! There is a GREAT summer camp near our house in New Jersey. All of my kids have gone there and were taught to swim! http://www.frogbridge.com/daycamp/02_aquatics.htm

    October 15, 2013 at 15:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. walkerwilliam91

    This was very interesting to read! Thanks for the great topic and article!

    William | http://brisbanebaysideswimsquad.com.au

    December 30, 2013 at 10:37 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Parents should start teaching swimming to their children at the earlier age to make them feel comfortable in the water and it is the best exercise for them. Pengu swim school at Houston is welcoming parents to enroll their children in swimming classes from 4 months to 14 years of age. Visit https://www.penguswimschool.com/ for more details.

    April 24, 2018 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.