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Swimming Lessons Not for All Ages

August 17, 1993

We were concerned after reading the story "Instincts Afloat" (July 28). Drowning is a leading cause of death for children under age 5 in California, even more common than deaths due to motor vehicle collisions. However, your readers should know that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend teaching children younger than age 4 to swim as a preventive measure.

The reasons for this are that while children can learn some rudimentary swimming skills, particularly when assisted by adults, they cannot reliably rescue themselves; they tire easily; they do not recognize when they are in danger, and they usually do not make any noise or call for help when drowning. These characteristics of young children preclude any effort to "waterproof" or "drown-proof" a small child.

It is particularly dangerous to encourage someone who may be inexperienced in swimming instruction and rescue techniques to teach a young child to swim. Even when using a life jacket or flotation device, children of this age should not be in a swimming pool without the constant supervision of a responsible adult who is a competent swimmer and knows rescue techniques, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

No single preventive measure will end the tragedy of drowning and near-drowning. Multiple steps should be taken by parents of young children and pool owners. These measures include responsible supervision, barriers to prevent child access to water and knowledge of rescue techniques including CPR.

Additional information on preventing drowning and near-drowning is available from the Orange County Health Care Agency by calling the Pool Safety Information Hotline at (714) 834-5728 or the American Academy of Pediatrics at (800) 433-9016.

Hildy Meyers, M.D., M.P.H.,

Medical Director

Communicable Disease Control

& Epidemiology

County of Orange Health Care Agency

Phyllis Agran, M.D., M.P.H.,


Injury Prevention Committee

American Academy of Pediatrics

Chapter 4

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