When are kids ready for swimming lessons?

Filed under: Babies, Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Development/Milestones: Babies, That's Entertainment

When my oldest daughter was just a wee babe, I enthusiastically signed her up for the "Mommy and Me" swimming class offered at the local pool. (My enthusiasm was tempered a bit once I realized that meant me and my post-partum body in a swimsuit, but I got a modest one-piece and got over it.) We gathered once a week with other parents and their kids while a college student led us through the equivalent of storytime at the pool. There were songs with motions, rubber duckies to chase, and tips for pool safety. There was not much actual SWIMMING, however, except from the four-year-old who ended up in the wrong class.

It seems I wasn't the only parent sucked in by the promise of a little water baby. Swimming lessons for babies and toddlers are popping up all over the place, but whether they're doing kids any good remains a matter of debate.

Parents like the idea of getting their children comfortable with the water from an early age, but the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that lessons for babies and toddlers can promote a false sense of security. Drowning is a real risk: it's still the leading cause of death for one- and two-year-olds. Spending time in the pool can expose young children to other health risks, including hypothermia and the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, a study published last summer demonstrated that chlorine byproducts common in treated swimming pools can cause airway changes that predispose children to asthma later in childhood.

The policy statement from the AAP says, "Generally, children are not developmentally ready for swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday." I'm inclined to agree. After our infant lessons, I promised myself that I would wait for swim lessons until she was ready. She's four now, and swimming lessons are in the plans for summer. I think we'll have success, because I know that my daughter is now able to listen and carry out the instructions of a teacher. And I'll be nearby, watching and encouraging her -- with all my clothes on -- from the pool decking.

The AAP site also hosts additional tips for pool safety, including information about setting pool rules, using pool fences, and diving.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.