Top Three Tips on Water Safety and Swim Lessons for Your Preschooler

Amy Rees
May 27, 2010

Little ones are joyfully drawn to the delights of the water, and we parents wish to foster that sense of the water as an endless source of fun and play. 

But of course, fun assumes safe, and a preschooler's carefree day at the beach or pool or lake (or bath) is made possible by a caring and always careful parent. 

Here is a refresher course for the basics on water safety for your little one:

Your preschooler should have a grown-up within an arm's reach at all times near the water.  This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics calls "touch supervision" -- voice control doesn't cut it at the pool.  Got twins? That means two grown-ups.  Got friends over?  As many grown-ups as there are kids under 5 (at least), all kept within their watching adult's reach.

The official line from the nation's pediatricians is no swim lessons until age 4.  Classes before age 4 are fun if you are splashing in the class too (touch supervision, after all), and if they are playful, water-acclimatizing group fun.  They shouldn't, though, lead either you or your little one to believe that he's safe in the water.  In fact, the experts say that reducing a little one's fear of the water may lead to a false sense of security for both child and parents.

And then after her fourth birthday, your child should indeed learn to swim, our pediatricians tell us.  View it as a life skill, not an enrichment activity.  Schedule it, keep to it, find a great class that teaches kindly and clearly, and turn your little one into a proper fish!  But, gulp, our doctors remind us ominously again:  "Remember, teaching your child how to swim DOES NOT mean your child is safe in water."  Water safety worries evolve, but don't stop.

One of our parenting muses, Wendy Mogel, uses the metaphor of teaching your child to swim to remind us that we are raising our little darlings to live, thrive (and splash) all on their own, someday much farther from us than a single arm's reach.  We think she's onto something here, and we are looking forward to a month's play at the shore to give it thought!

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I think it's crazy to wait until 4. My daughter started at 8 months, and by the time she had her third birthday she could swim the width of a pool with no swim aids. That doesn't mean that I ever take my eye off of her when she's in or around water, but it does make her safer. Plus, she absolutely loves it.

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    The AAP recently revised their swimming lesson guidelines (just this season, I believe). They now support lessons for children under 4, taking into account a child's individual readiness.

    over a year ago


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