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Should Your Toddler Take Swim Lessons?

For many families, summer means swimming. Even if kids are nowhere near old enough for cannonballs off the diving board, heading to the local pool is a time-honored way for families to socialize, catch some sun, and relax. But relaxing may not be the No. 1 priority for parents of very young kids who require constant supervision around water. To ease the burden of that necessary unrelenting surveillance, some parents and guardians may consider whether their toddlers should take swim lessons. The answer is a resounding, ambiguous maybe, but one thing's for sure: Even if your little one ends up being the star of swim class, it's still crucial to keep both eyes firmly on them when the fam spends the afternoon chilling out in and around the pool.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) previously advised that children are not prepared for swimming lesson until they are 4 years old, but recently changed its position when a study revealed that taking lessons doesn't make it more likely that 1- to 4-year-olds will drown. Conventional wisdom even dictates that familiarizing very young kids with the water would decrease their chances of drowning. But Melinda Wenner Moyer took a deep dive, so to speak, into the subject after her young son nearly drowned twice and found that that may not be the case — at all.

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The crux of the issue, Moyer wrote for Slate, is that swim lessons don't equip toddlers with the skills they need to save themselves from drowning, like what to do if they get a muscle cramp or sustain an injury while swimming. Instead, lessons have the potential to get the kids comfortable in the water — which, of course, is mostly a good thing. But Moyer also discovered over the course of her research — which included analyzing studies such as this one from 2014 — that parents whose children have been enrolled in swim lessons sometimes believe that their kids can handle themselves in the water better than they actually can.

As a result, parents may overestimate their kids' swimming abilities and not watch their children in the water as closely as they should. They simply believe that they don't have to — even though kids generally don't have the ability to be "competent" swimmers until they're 6 or 7, Red Cross instructor trainer Terri Lees told The Washington Post in 2014. It's also possible that taking swim lessons could prematurely help young kids shed a natural, healthy fear of water, a situation that could end in their jumping in without permission, Moyer wrote.

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None of this is to say that toddlers definitely should not take swim lessons. Parents should just carefully judge when is the right time and temper how they react after the lessons have started. YMCA aquatics consultant Laura Slane told Baby Center that a kid is ready for a non-parent-child class when he or she can listen to the instructors and follow directions for the duration of class. As for once the lessons are underway? Parents should continue to heed the AAP's good advice for water safety when it comes to toddlers: Keep them within touching distance at all times, no matter what, and don't look away from them for even a second.