Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Should 4-Year Olds Teach Swimming?

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on February 26, 2010

Twice last weekend I was reminded of how confident 4-year olds are, and how their confidence does not always match their skill level. 4-year old and 2-year old siblings drowned in Florida last weekend. The details are, unfortunately, typical – they were only out of sight for a few minutes, an unfenced swimming pool, distracted adults. It can happen to the most vigilant parent (except maybe the unfenced pool). What caught my attention was the conjecture that the 2-year old had fallen in and the 4-year old had tried to save the younger child and also drowned. The next day I was on the phone with my business partner, Kerry. She had overheard her 4-year old earnestly explaining to her 2-year old that as soon as the summer arrived she would teach her to swim. She would take her younger sister down to the pool with no floaties, help her into the water and teach her, since she was such a good swimmer herself and wanted to teach her younger sister.

Cringing yet? Just about turned Kerry’s hair white and made me feel sick. My children are now 6 and 8. I’ve watched how my children learn, seen how proud they are of each milestone – whether it is walking, catching a ball, 100% on a spelling test, or swimming. I’ve seen how the younger emulates and worships the older (when she’s not beating on him, of course), and on good days I’ve seen the older teaching the younger. My 8-year old boy is half-dolphin, he was swimming at 3. Wait, let me re-phrase that….when he was 3 he could swim short distances underwater by himself with me hovering very close by. He could jump into the pool if he knew I was there to grab him. He is still a confident and strong swimmer but not old enough to swim with no supervision (my benchmark is mastery of the butterfly stroke and half-hour of laps before I will reach any comfort level). My 6-year old daughter was a bit more circumspect, her confidence finally rose to her skill level just a few months ago and she is now doing the underwater paddle very well. Could my confident 8-year old save his 6-year old sister? Emphatically NO. At 4? No way. Could any child save another? I’ve heard stories, but unfortunately for every heroic rescue there are dozens more cases where both children drown.

Teach your children to always call for help first if they see another child in trouble. Let them know they won’t get in trouble for reporting danger, even if they were someplace they shouldn’t be. It’s a constant balance not crushing their enthusiasm and pride in their accomplishments, but with pools and toddlers, it’s a matter of life and death.

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