Swim lessons reduce drowning dangers

Short stuff: Health roundup

Research that determined swim lessons, even for children as young as 1, can drastically reduce the risk of drowning comes as no surprise to Chicago swim instructor Glen O’Sullivan.

O’Sullivan, a water safety instructor/trainer for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago, says even toddlers can grasp the fundamentals of being safe around water. Their parents can learn lifesaving tips, too.

Swim lessons"give parents a better respect for the water,” he says."It’s the parents of kids who don’t take swim lessons who are putting water wings on the kids and thinking,‘Oh, we can let them go now.'”

The study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics& Adolescent Medicine, found an 88 percent drop in the risk of drowning for children, age 1-4, who had participated in formal swim lessons. The findings, according to the report, dispel a concern held by some that swim lessons for the very young could increase the risk of drowning due to overconfidence by the child or decreased parental vigilance.

Both the Red Cross and the YMCA offer parent-tot swim lessons beginning at 6 months old. Valerie Cahill, aquatic director at the Elmhurst YMCA, says one of the first things young children learn is how to get out of the pool by themselves.

“If you’re always helping your child get out of the pool and one day you’re not there, they’ll keep waiting for those two hands,” she says."So we show them how to grab on to the pool with both hands, hook one knee up on the side and climb out.”

Along with swimming skills and water games, lessons teach children the importance of never swimming alone, of always wearing a life jacket on a boat, of jumping in feet first when the water depth is unknown. Toddlers learn how to tread water or roll while floating from their front to their back. They’re even taught how to assist someone who is drowning by throwing a flotation device and going to find adult help.

Parents learn right along with their children, either by being in the pool or receiving handouts after class.

“What we really hammer home is supervision,” Cahill says.

To find swim lessons in your area, contact your local parks and recreation department, or visit www.chicagoredcross.org or www.ymcachgo.org.

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