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Swimming Lessons: When Should Your Children Start?

Accidental drowning is one of the leading causes of death in young children. Swimming lessons may seem like the best way to prevent drowning. But, organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents think beyond swimming skills to other ways they can promote water safety.

Starting Earlier

The AAP emphasizes the importance of teaching children how to swim. There has been controversy, though, as to what age lessons should start. The AAP's current position is that children ages 1-4 may be less likely to drown if they have participated in swimming lessons. They advise parents to decide whether to enroll their children in lessons based on the child's:

  • Exposure to water sources for swimming
  • Emotional development
  • Physical abilities
  • Health conditions

However, the AAP has many other helpful suggestions that parents should consider to prevent drowning.

Touch Supervision

In its policy statement, the AAP recommends parents use "touch supervision" with infants, toddlers, and weak swimmers. This means parents should always be within an arm's length when their children are in or around water. Bathtubs, wading pools, and even buckets can pose safety risks for young children.

Parents of older children and more advanced swimmers also need to stay alert and avoid distraction as they monitor children in the water. In fact, the American Red Cross advises swimmers of all ages to always swim with a buddy and not to allow anyone to swim alone.

Danger in the Backyard

Tragically, many children under the age of five drown in their own backyard pools. The most effective way to prevent your children from drowning in the pool is to have a fence around a pool. Even children who take swimming lessons have difficulty transferring what they learn in swimming lessons to a situation in which they enter the pool unexpectedly.

If you have a pool, follow these prevention guidelines:

  • Enclose pool with a non-climbable fence that is at least 4 feet high.
  • Attach self-closing, self-latching gates to fences, and make sure the gates open outward. Toddlers try to open things by pushing on them.
  • Place locks on windows and doors leading to a pool or hot tub area.
  • Seal off doggy doors leading to a pool area.
  • Use a rigid pool cover.
  • Equip the pool with a shepherd's hook and lifesaving rings.
  • Keep a telephone near the pool.
  • Get training in CPR and infant CPR.

The AAP offers these additional safety guidelines:

  • Do not use swim aids, like inflatable arm bands, as they can deflate.
  • If you are taking your children to a beach or lake to swim, be sure that there is a lifeguard on duty.

The bottom line is that there is no way to "drown proof" your child. But, there are "layers of protection," like swimming lessons and pool safety measures, that can lower your child's risk of drowning.


American Academy of Pediatrics

American Red Cross


Canadian Red Cross

Children’s Safety Association of Canada


AAP gives updated advice on drowning prevention. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Published May 24, 2010. Accessed January 13, 2014.

American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. Prevention of drowning. Pediatrics. 2010 Jul;126(1):178-85.

Brenner RA, Taneja GS, Haynie DL, et al. Association between swimming lessons and drowning in childhood: a case-control study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2009;163(3):203-210.

Near-drowning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 8, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2014.

Swim safety. American Red Cross Association website. Available at: Accessed January 13, 2014.

Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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