You do not want your toddler to drown. I don’t want your toddler to drown, either. Swimming lessons are great, and can help them be more comfortable in water, but please don’t rely on them to give you peace of mind at the pool.
Having a kid who can sort-of swim actually makes us less likely to watch them like a hawk, Melinda Wenner-Moyer writes at Slate. Drowning is the most common injury-based way for children to die, and swimming lessons can’t totally prevent that.
Even a kid who knows how to swim can suddenly forget everything—adults can too—when they’re panicking. If you have clothes on, or if you’re in cold water, everything seems different and you need to have the mental fortitude to calm yourself down and swim to shore. Can kids do that? Some of them, sometimes. But you can’t count on it.
We also tend to miss the signs of drowning when we’re looking right at them. Wenner-Moyer says she’s seen her own child almost drown twice. I know parents who’ve had similar experiences, even with kids who are strong swimmers. Shit happens.
This Illustrated Guide Shows You What Drowning Really Looks Like
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So what can a worried parent do? First, learn what drowning looks like. Watch your kids all the damn time, even if you’re sure they’re fine near water. Little ones should be within arm’s reach. And if you have a pool in your back yard, keep your back door locked, and your fence locked, and install motion-sensing alarms. This isn’t overkill; it’s just good safety practice.
Then you can think about swimming lessons. Swimming lessons for kids are great! My seven-year-old can swim a few laps of freestyle like it’s nothing, thanks to the lessons we started when he was little. Just be realistic about what your kid is getting out of lessons: fun times and useful skills, not a magical force field that protects them from drowning.