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Kids should start swimming lessons at 1 year old, safety experts say

Tips to protect kids from drowning
What parents can do to protect kids from drowning 01:44

It's every parent's worst nightmare. It only takes seconds for a child to drown, often so silently no one notices before it's too late. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children, leading to nearly 1,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics is putting the spotlight on prevention with some updated advice for parents.

"When a child is in and around water, we need constant attentive supervision, touch supervision, which means they are within an arm's length of that child when they are in the water," Dr. Sarah Denny, an emergency physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and an author of the AAP report, told CBS News. 

Kids ages 1 to 4 are at the highest risk for drowning and many deaths happen when children have unexpected access to water.

"When kids are not expected to be in the water that's when we need those barriers. That's the four-sided isolation fencing that separates the pool from the rest of the house and the yard," Denny said.

The AAP stresses all children should learn to swim and children and teens should wear life jackets when near bodies of water. Studies show that swim lessons starting around age 1 can reduce a child's risk of drowning. Experts say the lessons need to teach children basic water skills, as well as water safety.

"Floating, grasping the wall, climbing in and out of the water turning back to the wall, a lot of times children end up falling into the water and they look to the furthest point and if they just turned around they would be better off," said Katie Lee of the Goldfish Swim School in Long Island, New York.

Child's death highlights risk of "dry drowning" 01:26

Rosalen Alincastre's 3-year-old daughter Ava takes classes at GoldFish Swim each week.

"I really wanted them to just have a basic knowledge of like what to do — God forbid they ever fell in," she said.

After three years of lessons, Chris Goodrich said his 3-year-old son Shane has made a lot of progress. "He's comfortable in the water, which is important," Goodrich said. "He's getting from one place to another, which he is now doing."

The American Academy of Pediatrics also emphasizes that swimming is a family activity so parents should also know how to swim.

Other tips from the AAP to prevent drowning include:

  • Parents should never leave children alone or in the care of another child while in or near bathtubs, pools, spas, or other open water.
  • Adults should empty water from buckets and other containers immediately after use — even a small amount of water can be hazardous for a young child.
  • Never leave young children alone in the bathroom. Toilet locks can prevent drowning of toddlers.
  • Even with older children and better swimmers, the supervising adult should focus on the child and not get distracted with other activities.
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