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Parent's Corner

Water Babies: Swimming 101 for Little Ones

By: Pamela Brill

The dog days of summer have officially begun, and if you haven't had an opportunity to take your little one to the beach or pool yet, it's time to take advantage of the warm weather before the season is over.

But if you've been hesitant about swimming with your baby or toddler before they're ready, your reluctant feelings are well-founded. According to Eric Lupton, a director of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, 69 percent of fatal drowning incidents take place when a parent is responsible for supervising the child. "So while supervision is critical, it can and does fail," he notes.

By learning about water safety and teaching your child how to swim early on, you can enjoy the luxury of a refreshing swim with your child on a hot summer's day—without worry.

Putting a Toe In

As to when to get started, your baby can learn to swim earlier than you might think, even as young as six months. "At this age, it is basically about getting babies used to the water, so they are not afraid of it," says Juliene Hefter, executive director of the Association of Aquatic Professionals (www.aquaticpros.org). Parents can expect to join their baby in the water during lessons, enabling them to learn activities they can do together. This includes how to float on their backs, put their faces in the water, pick up their heads with their faces out of the water and kick on their backs.

If you want to take your own lessons a step further, consider registering for infant CPR classes, which are usually available through local chapters of the American Red Cross, the YMCA or area hospitals. For parents who want to understand CPR basics without undergoing a formal certification, CPR parties are another option. "They are a fantastic way to learn and are structured like the Tupperware parties of old," describes Lupton. He suggests visiting www.theclayfoundation.org for more information.

In the Backyard and Beyond

If you'll be visiting a friend or family member's pool or have a pool in your own backyard, a properly installed pool fence is a must. While some families may be turned off by the utilitarian design of a wrought iron fence, removable mesh pool fence is a transparent alternative that can be easily removed when no longer necessary. Lupton also suggests high locks on all doors and windows leading to the pool, as well as alarms on both the pool and on the child (a wristband that alarms if a child is submerged in water).

Those who wish to be extra vigilant might consider reviewing a drowning prevention program. Hefter recommends the Association of Aquatic Professionals RESPECT Drowning Prevention Program, a free online education resource available at www.aquaticpros.org/drowning-prevention-education.

Finally, if your family will be visiting a water park or beach this summer, don't depend solely on the lifeguards to watch out for your baby or newly swimming toddler. "Always maintain 'touch supervision,' where you physically have a hand on the child," advises Lupton.

Close access is a must, agrees Hefter. "The most important part of water safety is being in the water with your children, no more than an arm's distance away,      and watching them constantly," she says. "If the facility has life jackets, use them; this is the most efficient way to ensure the safety of children in the water."

And if for some reason you need to get out of the water, designate what she calls a 'water watcher.' "If they have to take their attention off of the children…that duty should be passed on to another adult. They need to put away their phones, books or anything else that may create a distraction."