Teaching tots to swim could save lives

As soon as 2-year-old Bailey Benson hits the water, she knows she has to float up to the top and get on her back.

"Basically she does a survival float. If you threw her in the water she would roll over and float on her back and then she could swim to the side," said mom, Rhonda Benson.

She's been taking swimming lessons since she was 6 months old. But, the American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends swimming lessons for kids 5 and older.

"The Academy of Pediatric's policy is that most kids are not developmentally ready to begin swimming until they're over 4 years of age, said Dr. Kathryn Stiles, pediatrician.

There is a difference between teaching water safety skills and actually swimming. That's the premise behind new research that recommends starting safety lessons for toddlers and perhaps even infants to help protect kids from drowning. It's the idea behind swimming courses at the YMCA North Valley Family Center.

"If a child falls into a pool, if they know how to turn over it can save their life," said Sarah Baham, YMCA aquatics coordinator.

In the study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics, researchers asked 88 parents whose children had drowned if their child had ever taken swimming lessons. Only two percent in ages 1 to 4 had ever had a formal class. Yet, in other families, experts found 26 percent had taken classes. Dr. Kathryn Stiles, a pediatrician, say her own kids took lessons at age 2.

"Drowning is one of the leading causes of deaths in kids and anything we can do that's preventative is critical," said Dr. Stiles.

Basic water safety training at a young age can be helpful.

"But it can never, ever be substituted for vigilance with people watching the kids while they are swimming," said Dr. Stiles.

And even though Bailey does well in water, her mom knows never to let down her guard.

"She's not near any water without me, but I am much more confident now than I was a year ago," said Rhonda Benson.

Dr. Stiles also recommends designating one person as the designated life guard at any type of pool party.

So often parents might think other adults are watching when they're not. And it's so easy to get distracted. The YMCA recommends training your child in water safety as early as six months. And also there are swimming programs available to infants and toddlers.



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