Are floaties, swim lessons for kids a good idea?

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

You see them everywhere in the summertime. Arm floats and other colorful swim aids are popular, but are they safe?

Parents should never rely on flotation devices when their kids are in the water, safety experts say.

"We discourage the use of floaties," says Patti Rhynders, director of injury prevention at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. "They may give a parent a false sense of security that their child can float. The other reason is that you put floaties on a kid and say, 'Oh, you're swimming, you're doing so well.' Well, they aren't swimming. You know that, but they don't know that."

Swimming instructor Sheri Phillips, a North Dallas instructor at Infant Swimming Research, says arm floats, inner tubes and similar products also teach kids the wrong way to swim. They encourage the child to stay in a vertical position, rather than swimming horizontally.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also is weighing in on swim lessons for youngsters.

In a recent advisory, the AAP warned against swim lessons for children under 4, saying such training may make them over-confidentaround water. Children younger than 4 are not ready physically or intellectually for lessons in how to swim, the academy advises.

While local swim instructors say swim lessons are a solid way to introduce kids to the water, Ms. Phillips says lessons are no substitute for a watchful parent.

"The most important thing is that there is no such thing as drown-proofing anybody," Ms. Phillips says. "Yes, I agree it does give some parents a false sense of security, but you have to use logic and common sense. I also teach my 3-year-old that he has to look both ways before he crosses the street. But I would never make my son responsible for his own safety in the street. That is still my job. But I still teach him the skill, even though he will not rely on it for years. You have to look at your swimming supervision just as you look at other types of supervision."

10 crucial precautions

If you're in charge of children near water, here are 10 things experts say you should always keep in mind:

1. Never allow young children to hang out in or near a pool or lake without an adult nearby. Don't assume kids are safe solely because they have taken swimming lessons, or because life preservers or other flotation devices are around.

2. A leading distraction to constant supervision around the pool is an adult leaving to answer the phone. If you must leave, bring the children. Post the 911 emergency phone number on all phones and have a phone poolside for emergencies.

3. Infants and young children can drown in as little as 2 inches of water. Drain standing water from pool and spa covers. Remove covers completely before using the pool or spa and replace them immediately after use. Be just as vigilant with wading pools, says Patti Rhynders, director of injury prevention for Children's Medical Center of Dallas. Empty and turn them upside down after use so they don't collect rain water.

4. Even if you are sitting by the pool, don't be distracted by conversation. Never take your eyes off your kids, especially toddlers. Assign a specific adult to supervise the pool or spa area, especially during social gatherings. A second adult can maintain visual contact with children. Don't assume someone else is watching a child. "If you ever need to leave the back yard, don't just say I'll be right back. Designate one adult - say their name - to watch the pool," says North Dallas swim instructor Sheri Phillip

5. No one should dive into above-ground pools; they are too shallow. Where allowed, dive with hands in front and only from the tip of the diving board, not from the sides. Slide down a pool slide feet first only - never head first.

6. Mount rescue equipment, such as a lifesaving ring, shepherd's hook and CPR sign, by the pool for easy access.

7. Never leave toys in or around the pool area. Place items that can be used by kids for climbing (tables, chairs, and planters) away from fences.

8. Routinely secure and lock all doors, windows and gates leading to the pool area when it's not in use.

9. Know infant/child CPR and other rescue techniques. Insist that everyone over 14 years of age - including baby-sitters, grandparents and anyone else who may watch your children - know the safety rules and have current certification in infant/child CPR.

10. If a child is missing, check the pool first - seconds count. Nearly half of all child drowning victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred, and 23 percent were last seen on the porch, patio or in the yard, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.