In recent years, I’ve gotten hundreds of requests for information and advice about when children should start swimming lessons. Though I’d like to think I am a pretty smart guy, my experience in water safety has been predominantly on the rescue side. For a time I was an instructor at the U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer School and I developed much of the curriculum in use today.  Which means the people I taught to swim through the water were fully grown and very tough when I met them.  Our classes were….different….than you would hope for with your kids. So what I am saying is, I’m not sure.  But that’s not really an answer so I asked my really smart friends at the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and I came up with some pretty good ideas.

I’m sure she doesn’t remember it now, but 23 years ago my own daughter was “drownproofed” (Not the right word, really) through a program called Water Babies. I think it was the right thing to do in as much as I think that making sure your child’s first experience with being in the water isn’t accidental is important.

But almost as importantly – that first experience shouldn’t be traumatic in any way either.  Children with a fear of water can easily turn into non-swimming older children.  And non-swimming older children (and adults) drown more easily than swimmers. Parents should attend training classes and watch what happens with the other children before committing their own to the same type of instruction.  If their is screaming and crying, you may want to reconsider the course.

Regardless of the training anyone receives (at any age), the precautions and safeguards that keep us safe around the water shouldn’t change. Teaching your children to swim does not mean you can relax your guard when they are swimming or near the water.  All it means is that they will be at least a little safer should things go wrong – and safer is better.

What age to start?

You guessed it – it depends.  I’ll just suggest that at a minimum , parents make themselves familiar this document written by the American Red Cross Advisory Council on First Aid, Aquatics, Safety and Preparedness.  It culls the research and helps parents and aquatic educators make sound decisions about instruction.

I also want to point out that exposure to water and water safety don’t have to immediately be about swimming competence.  It can be just about fun in the water with mom or dad.  Teaching them about being safe around the water can be about teaching them to stay away from the water without mom or dad being with them.  An automatic thing with traffic “hold mommy’s hand” isn’t so common with the less obvious but equally dangerous backyard pool or pond.  For excellent help with that – check out the Josh the Otter link to the right.

So when you start teaching your children to swim?  Yeah – I am still not sure, but I am working on it.

What are your ideas?

disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Coast Guard.  Links to videos and Internet sites do constitute a personal endorsement of the products and services referenced therein.

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