By Dr. Gregory Gordon
Author of Raising Good
Parents – A Guide to Your
Baby’s First Year
My children have all had swim lessons. Amazingly, all eight Gordons were taught by the same swim instructor.
We started each child in infant swim lessons shortly after they learned to crawl. They learned to float as infants and then swim-float-swim as toddlers.
When our oldest children first began infant swim lessons, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Orlando medical community were against the idea. The AAP felt there wasn’t good scientific support, and they believed that lessons gave parents a false sense of security. While I was initially uncertain, my wife was determined to provide our children with water safety skills. I quickly became a fan as our children’s abilities and confidence in the water blossomed.
In 2010, the AAP finally changed its stance on infant swim lessons after two studies demonstrated that early swim lessons did in fact protect children from drowning. While the AAP does not go so far as to endorse infant swim lessons, it now states:
“A parent’s decision about starting swimming lessons or water-survival skills training at an early age must be individualized on the basis of the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional maturity, physical limitations, and health concerns …”
Here in central Florida, there are multiple pools, lakes and retention ponds within walking distance. I would feel negligent as a parent if I did not enroll my children in early swim lessons. However, I do not consider my children drown-proof at any age. For instance, we still rely on a pool fence and close parental supervision. But I also believe that swim lessons are an important component of keeping our kids safe.
Early in the year is a great time to seek out the right swim program for your child. We like to sign up in February, since by early spring our local program is packed. Here are some guidelines to help you find the right program for your child:
- Always visit lessons before you enroll, to educate yourself on the method and goals of the instructor.
- Be sure that the instructor is skilled with babies and young children.
- Ask what skill level you can expect once the child has completed lessons.
- Get referrals from your friends, physicians and neighbors.
I prefer programs that make a direct connection between the infant swim lessons (floating/survival) and stroke-swimming lessons. Toddlers should learn to “swim-float-swim” where they swim, flip over and float, then flip over and swim again. Typically it takes four to five weeks to develop a happy, competent swimmer. The swim-float-swim ability helps children make a smooth transition to “standard” swim lessons, too.
Some children may cry or burp up (after swallowing air or pool water). I’ve heard mothers say they tried lessons but could not make it through the whole course. Some have complained that their traumatized child “won’t go near water.” And I think that is good, too. Clearly, these toddlers have acquired a healthy respect for water. What you don’t want is a mobile toddler who loves the water and thinks she can swim.
Dr. Gordon is the proud father of eight children. He is Vice President of “The Gift of Swimming” (a local charity that provides swim lessons to Orlando’s needy children). In early 2010 Dr. Gordon started gregorygordonmd.com to share his pediatric and parenting experience.