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Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(7):1673-1674

Children who are in and around water are at higher risk of hypothermia, water intoxication, spread of communicable disease and drowning. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated its 1985 policy about swimming programs for infants and toddlers. While some aquatic programs may include water safety instructions for parents and children, these programs are clearly not designed to teach children how to swim. In fact, swimming skills are not the same as water safety skills, and parents should be clear about what is developmentally possible in different age groups.

Rudimentary swimming movements (e.g., the dog paddle) are possible in a one-year-old child, but traditional swimming strokes do not occur until a child is about five years of age. Children who have not yet reached their fourth birthday will not have the neuromuscular capability to adequately learn swimming skills. Taking swimming lessons at an earlier age does not mean that the child will master water skills earlier or be more proficient than children who take such lessons later. Training programs have been shown to improve water survival skills, but safety training has not been shown to decrease the risk of drowning. In fact, programs that emphasize making the child stop fearing water may, in fact, encourage children to enter the water without supervision. Therefore, the AAP Committee recommends that children do not begin formal swimming lessons until after they are four years of age.

Parents should not be encouraged to believe that a child's participation in an aquatic program will decrease the risk of drowning, and they should remain within arm's reach or able to touch the swimmer at all times (also known as “touch supervision”).

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