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When should your child learn to swim?

June 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Doctors say the biggest health threat young kids face in Southern California is drowning. New evidence shows teaching toddlers how to swim can help reduce their drowning risk. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says its not ready to make that recommendation.Two-year-old Claire Van Der Linden has been swimming since she was 9 months old. That's when her mother taught her infant swim survival skills.

"We'll teach them to hold their breath, keep their eyes open under water and swim with their face down between three to five seconds," said Cathryn Van Der Linden, Infant Swimming Resource teacher. "Then they roll onto their back to float, rest and breath. Then they flip back over onto their tummy."

ISR offers swimming lessons to children as young as 8 months old. While the American Academy of Pediatrics does not advocate swim lessons for infants, the group has reversed their earlier recommendations and now approves of swim lessons for toddlers ages 1 to 4.

Pediatricians say research shows it can reduce drowning incidents.

"There are two recent studies, even though they are small, in kids from 1 to 5 years old that taking swimming lessons can reduce their risk of drowning," said Dr. Christopher Tolcher, American Academy of Pediatrics. "Not totally prevent but reduce the risk."

"It's wonderful. It is going save so many lives now that doctors are in support of this," said Linden.

Just because a child learns survival skills doesn't make them drown proof. Experts say nothing replaces parental supervision because anything can happen when a child is near a body of water.

"We do not want to give parents a false sense of security," said Linden. "Parental supervision is the number one thing that we want."

"The reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend swimming for kids under the age 1 is that there's no evidence currently that it reduces the risk that it's effective in preventing drowning," said Tolcher.

Between San Diego and L.A. County there are 1.5 million residential pools and that doesn't even include public pools, lakes or beach front.

Linden believes swim lessons for toddlers should be an automatic precaution, like strapping on a seat belt, because drowning is the number one killer of kids under 5 in California.

Dr. Tolcher reminds us to fence in our pools and always keep an eye on your child. The Orange County Fire Authority says a swimming pool is 14 times more likely than a motor vehicle to be involved in the death of a child age 4 and under.


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