It happened again last week. An anxious young mother said, "She just loves her B-A-T-H. We have to spell it because she loves it so. Do you think I should give Tracy swimming lessons?"
"Of course, Anne, but not now! Wait about three more years!"
Her Tracy is 15 months old. She’s bright, curious and exploring every new thing she encounters in her little world. Anne and Tom want her to be curious and exploring. Anne knew I was sincere and that I have taught thousands of children to swim. She didn’t know I am opposed to swimming lessons for toddlers. Toddlers don’t want to swim; they want to play in the water.
Parents must be lifeguards. Curiosity or the praise of parents and teachers could make a beginner overconfident.
Even obedient children forget when it’s a hot day and they see water. Pools must be fenced and gates locked.
In the United States each year, 1,000 children drown. Fewer will die this year because the Heimlich maneuver, four quick pressures, has replaced "rescue breathing," or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
If a person of any age is choking on water, not breathing, do the Heimlich maneuver at once! Don’t waste time calling 911. Permanent brain damage begins, for all ages, in three minutes after breathing stops.
See directions for the Heimlich maneuver for children below.
As an American Red Cross trainer of water safety instructors, I studied many actual drownings.
A 2-year-old climbed over a fence to get to a sewage lagoon and drowned in that nasty water.
A baby drowned in his bath water when his mother was away for a few moments.
Two boys, in different states, drowned the same day in mop buckets!
"Healthy Kids," a magazine by an association of nearly 55,000 pediatricians, reinforces my belief that age 4 is a good starting time for swimming lessons. Little fellows gulp a lot of water while learning; some vomit. Water where babies swim contains urine and other body wastes. Diapers and swimmers with diarrhea should not be in the water. Diseases are sometimes passed around in toddler pools. Highly chlorinated water is harmful for little fellows to swallow. If tots are taught in water too deep for them to stand, they are likely to be launched to swim, without much warning. Playing in shallow water their first few years is conducive to rapid learning later.
Grown-ups want their children to take swimming lessons. It’s a good show. Anne and Tom would enjoy bragging rights, but the child doesn’t want to really swim. He or she wants to play, to splash water, slap it, jump in it, run in it, pee in it, kick to make it splash, blow bubbles in it, lap it up like a dog, whack it with a stick, spit in it and float paper in it. That’s "fimmin’ " to the toddler. It’s unrealistic to expect a toddler to swim well enough to save his or her life in an emergency. A parent must be there to say no if there’s a current, murky or polluted water and if windstorm or lightning is imminent.
Parents should practice the Heimlich maneuver and use it if the child chokes on water and stops breathing.
Here’s the technique for infants and toddlers:
With the child on your lap facing you, use both index fingers and the two longest fingers to press between the navel and the rib cage. Pressing down and slightly toward the head, deliver four rapid pressures, in six to nine seconds, until water gushes out the victim’s mouth and he or she breathes.