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Sharp Health News

Swim lessons for kids: a San Diego must

May 15, 2019

Swim lessons for kids: a San Diego must
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children 1 to 4 years old in San Diego — and many pool accidents happen when an adult is nearby.

Yes, pools need gates. And yes, those gates need locks. But as (or more) important than pool security is parental vigilance and teaching your child to swim.

“Swim lessons for a child shouldn’t be recreational, the way soccer or T-ball is,” says Cheryl Pawlak, a recreational therapy lead for the aquatics therapy program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Teaching a child to swim is one of many precautionary actions a parent must take for their child’s safety and well-being.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, swim lessons — as a layer of protection against drowning — can begin for children starting as early as age 1. Studies show that while toddlers can’t master swim forms, enrolling them in classes can help with vital water survival skills.

By the time a child reaches age 4, they have the capacity to float, tread water and get themselves to an exit point. And by 5 or 6, they can move themselves forward in the water. While none of these things guarantees a child’s safety, they are key measures in helping prevent pool accidents.

Choosing the right swim class
Here in San Diego, there are plenty of swim schools to choose from. There are leagues, city pool programs and a wide variety of private companies. To find the right class for toddlers and young children, look for:

  • A varied curriculum
    While stroke techniques are great, they’re not ideal for newbies. Look for a school that offers water survival competency skills — such as finding the wall, returning to the surface from underwater, and floating and resting on their backs.

  • An age-appropriate experience
    Kids are kids, and based on age, they learn in different ways. Swim instructors should know what works and what doesn’t, and schools should provide class structures that cater to what a child is developmentally ready for.

  • Qualified instructors
    In addition to swim instructors needing nationally recognized certifications, they should also know CPR and first aid. If they don’t, there should always be a lifeguard on duty who does.

  • Real-life scenario training
    Pool safety is as much out of the water as it is in. Instructors should teach children safety habits, such as never swimming alone or always getting permission to swim. And lessons should include what to do in realistic and unexpected conditions, such as falling in accidentally, or falling in fully clothed.
No matter how skilled your child becomes in the pool, nothing can truly protect them from water dangers. Your undivided supervision is the most important element in staying safe. Remember to:

  • Pay close, constant attention.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs around the water.
  • Keep small children within arm’s reach.
  • Don’t leave children unattended, or under the care of another child.
  • Designate and rotate a dedicated pool “watcher” during busy social gatherings.
  • Be hyper-aware of accessible bodies of water, as curious kids can sneak off unnoticed.
  • Know the signs of drowning, and learn CPR.
  • Ensure pools are locked tight when not in use.
Drowning is quick and silent. For children, it can happen during surprisingly short breaks in supervision. “While a small distraction like answering a cellphone may seem harmless, it can mean disaster,” says Pawlak. “Families must be aware of the dangers that water can hold, and use water safety classes to protect children.”

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