As any of my patients will tell you, I am big on swim lessons for children. I think it is terrible if a child reaches adult life and doesn’t know how to swim well enough to be safe around water. Because of my enthusiasm for formal swim lessons for children, I read with interest an article that I saw in the February edition of Pediatrics, the journal from the Academy of Pediatrics. The authors studied the rate of hospital admission for near drowning in the US for the past 16 years. They found that during this period of time, there has been a dramatic 49% decline in hospitalizations for children who almost drowned. This must mean that children in the past 16 years have become better equipped to stay safe around water, probably because more children have access to formal swimming lessons. Great news for children.
I am heartened to see this improvement, but I won’t be happy until the decline is 100%. There are so many things in life over which we have no control, but prevention of drowning in children is probably not one of them. I can’t tell you how many instances I have been the physician of record during near drowning events. It is a horrible experience for everyone involved, but especially for the family of the child.
Here is what you can do to make sure your family doesn’t endure such pain. Make sure you maintain extremely close supervision over very young children around bathtubs, ponds, and pools, and enroll them in formal swimming lessons beginning at 4-5 years of age and not stopping the lessons until your child is a strong swimmer. By “strong swimmer,” I mean they should be able to swim long distances in deep water and know the Dos and Don’ts around water. You can also reinforce the rules about never swimming alone, never diving in water where you don’t know where the bottom is, using approved flotation devices when boating or swimming in open water, and swimming with great caution in open water, especially where there might be currents that are dangerous.
If you are one of those parents who thinks you can teach your children to be safe swimmers on your own, think again. I believe every child deserves formal swimming lessons taught by someone who is trained to do so. If you are one of those parents who does not know how to swim yourself, make especially sure you don’t let your own fear of water get in the way of your child learning to swim. Not only are non-swimmers at great risk around water, but they are also missing out on one of life’s truly fun activities.