Experts urge swim lessons, water safety to prevent child drownings

BELMAR, New Jersey (WABC) -- As more local pools and parks are re-opening from pandemic shutdowns, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging families and caregivers to provide swim lessons for safety around the water.

Since many local pools are re-opening again after they were closed and canceled summer swim classes during the pandemic shutdowns, the organization is reminding parents of the importance of swimming lessons and water safety skills, like putting up pool fences and wearing life jackets.

Drowning is a leading cause of death in kids, and swimming lessons for kids and their families can help save lives.

"Drowning is the single leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4, and it's one of the top causes of death for teens," said pediatrician Dr. Sarah Denny, the lead author of AAP guidance on Prevention of Drowning. "In the summer, children often have more access to pools, lakes and other sources of water, all of which pose a drowning risk,"

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During the COVID pandemic shutdowns, many local pools and park districts canceled summer swim classes, and many parents opted to keep children closer to home to protect against infection.

As water safety programs are again available, it's an opportunity to enroll children in classes that teach lifesaving swimming and water safety skills.

"Swim lessons teach children a life skill that could help save their lives," said Dr. Denny, co-lead author of a 2021 Prevention of Drowning technical report. "Research shows that formal swim lessons for children age 1 and older reduce the risk of drowning. Swim lessons are an important layer of protection to prevent drowning, in addition to pool fencing, close supervision and lifeguards while swimming, life jackets on boats and lakes, and CPR training."

According to the AAP, the layers of protection to prevent drowning should include:

--All children and adults should learn to swim. Children can benefit from swimming lessons as young as age 1, but parents should gage their child's maturity, health concerns, water exposure and readiness to determine at what age to start swimming lessons.
--Close, constant, attentive supervision around water is important. Assign an adult "water watcher," who should not be distracted by work or socializing who can pay constant attention to swimming children.
--Around the house, empty all buckets, bathtubs and wading pools immediately after use. If you have young children, keep the bathroom door closed, and use toilet locks to prevent access by young children. For toddlers, some of the biggest drowning risks are in the home, including tubs and toilets.
--Pools should be surrounded by a four-sided fence, with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Research shows pool fencing can reduce drowning risk by 50%. Additional barriers can include door locks, window locks, pool covers and pool alarms.
--Adults and older children should learn CPR.
--Everyone, children and adults, should wear US Coast Guard-approved life jackets whenever they are in open water, or on watercraft.
--Parents and teens should understand how using alcohol and drugs increases the risk of drowning while swimming or boating.

"We can't drown-proof kids, so it's important to make sure that there is fencing and other barriers around water to make sure children can't get into water when unsupervised," Dr. Denny said. "When a young or unskilled swimmer is in the water, a water watcher or parent should be within arm's length. Even when a child has learned to swim, water watchers should keep them in view constantly while swimming."

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