Swimming Safety

Published in Parenting Plus May 2012

In the process of raising and parenting our children, we teach and discipline right from wrong, condition a young child to look both ways before crossing the street but never let them try it unsupervised. The same principles apply to a swimming pool. The most important factor when considering swimming lessons is that instruction is just one more step in the overall effort towards good parenting. No intent is ever implied that supervision can be replaced. The pool barriers are necessary, but only slow children down! It has been proven, with sometimes tragic results, that barriers are only as good as the people who use them. I applaud the thousands of parents in our communities who are doing a great job providing a safe environment for their children.

Unlike many who have been in the Learn to Swim business for 30+ years, I have stayed at water level (shoulder high) holding and hugging babies and young children. Teaching swimming has convinced me that a strong attraction to water, LIKING IT, is inherent in children. In 1979, I was certified in an intense survival training approach short on TLC. I quickly learned to listen to the parents and read their feelings. The child’s comfort level in the water can be a very delicate component to the success of a lesson. I will not compromise my expectation of skills with a child, but the right sequence of skills is vital. There has to be trust, respect and affection. It is essential as parents and educators to develop a sense of self-reliance and proper pool manners.

It is every child’s right to know how to swim. Teaching babies and young children is not new, but let’s ask some good questions…

When parents are ready to make the commitment, the child is most likely more than ready. The parents must not only attend daily lessons, but also provide constructive play time to reinforce swim skills and make it fun. The parents’ pride and excitement gets passed along to the child. A formal swim program is a lifestyle choice, not a medical decision. Released May 24,2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated their policy statement in regards to the age children could be introduced to a learn to swim program. The age went from 4 years of age down to 1 year old. YEA!

From birth, bath time should be a fun, relaxed and comfortable time. Water temperature should be warm and exposure should be frequent and brief. As crawl behavior begins as well as pulling up, you can consider a structured program. If your child has reached 3 or 4 years and is still not a swimmer, exposing him to other children the same age who are proficient and enjoy water play can have an enormous impact on his attitude around the water. Remember positive reinforcement; if you do not like or trust the lessons, your child will not either. Learn everything you can about the instructor and her/his program. Ask lots of questions and in most cases try to observe some classes and talk to other parents.

Pools should be as full as possible, affording the easiest reach at the edge for the child in the water. The waterline tile should be a contrast in color so the edge is visible under water. Children swim with their eyes open and need to be able to see the edge in order to swim towards it. Steps also are safer when edged with color tile. Never leave toys or floats or rafts in your pool! Even a breeze can blow them into the pool and suddenly a floating item becomes a dangerous attraction to a child. At a glance, your entire pool area should be clearly visible. A floating raft could conceal something that should not be in your pool. Multiple barriers are essential when young children are around water, but if has been proven that barriers only slow children down. Supervision is the key to a safe environment.

No effort is being made to establish swim skills. You only need to imagine your child in a pool without the flotation to see that all the behavior is wrong! Head is thrust back, legs have bike riding action, arm do nothing – it is all wrong! The child is not learning to have a safe relationship with the pool edge. Children have getting in skills. They are born with them. They must learn how to get out. Jumping into water should not be a fun game unless the child knows what to do next, like swim to a safe place!

Children should wear a life jacket whenever near water they could fall into. Make life jackets fun to wear. The child should be proud of it. Take her shopping with you, try it on like clothing. Choose a bright color. There are comfortable ones. The jacket is an aid in supervision, not an aid for swimming. Let your child experience being in the water wearing the jacket. If she tumbles into water, she will know the jacket is to help her. Do not jump in on top of your child. Take a few seconds to figure a safe way for you to enter the water, or maybe grab the boat hook. Just THINK before you act.

CPR training is positively essential. Thinking you know what to do is not enough! A CPR card with a current date is your best education. The ABC’s (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) need to be part of your parenting plans.

I have always had the approach that any baby, young child or adult that does not know how to swim has a very special NEED. When there is a special need, these children come to swim lessons ready to play. Learning valuable swim skills is just a bonus and part of the fun. All the BENEFITS of earkly swimming especially apply to these children.www.swimwhisperers.com You can never completely insure the safety of your child. Never assume they will do the right thing. Swim training and common sense safety precautions are the necessary steps toward beginning to give your child the best possible chance in the event if an accident; this is only the beginning. It is a constant effort and just part of the total picture of good parenting. Instead of thinking that you need to lure your child into liking water, let us start thinking about making it easy and fun to get out of water safely.


1) Babies less than a year old accept the water more readily than older children. Before 2 years old, they are apt to become “fearless”. Children older than 3 may require more TLC to become comfortable being submerged for the first time.

2) Fear of water is acquired as children grow older. The longer a baby is kept away from the water, the more likely the child is to develop fears. Early water exposure accelerates growth physically, intellectually and emotionally.

3) Babies can exercise more muscles in the water. They are less restricted by gravity and the inability to stand and walk. Increasing strength and balance allows earlier acquisition of physical skills.

4) Swimming improves a baby’s cardiovascular fitness. This improves their control and endurance in the water.

5) Early mastery of water movement gives children a head start in learning basic swim skills. Stroke technique can begin as early as between 2 and 3 years old for children who have had proper preparation.

6) Water helps improve coordination and balance by forcing babies to move bilaterally to maintain equilibrium. This benefits brain development.

7) Tender touch provides a child emotional nourishment. Warm water combined with gentle exercise, relaxes and stimulates babies’ appetites. They usually eat and sleep better on swim days.

8) Doctors often recommend swimming for asthmatics. For many, the exercise produces bronchial hyperactivity. Swimming stimulates less wheezing than other forms of exercise. Possibly the warm moist air around pools is less irritating to the lungs.

9) Babies who participate in early swim experiences, better adapt to new situations and have more self confidence and independence than non-swimmers.

10) Learning to swim is not only a fun, healthy activity but a safety measure as well. To insure a child’s safely, nothing can replace adult supervision.

We have to do the “SAFER 3”
1) Safer Water
2) Safer Kids
3) Safer Response


Sue Howell has been teaching children to swim in Northern Palm Beach County since 1979. She is a member of the US Swim School Association, the World Aquatics Babies Congress, & certified by the Fitness Institute Intl. Her US Water Fitness Certificate gives her much to offer the adult that wants to learn to swim for fun, health and state-of-mind. She is heavily involved in community efforts regarding swimming and water safety.

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