The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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Swim Lesson Myth: Children should close their mouth while in the water.

“Close your mouth!” Many parents (and even swim teachers) remind their children when taking swimming lessons.  I assume they are afraid that their child will choke on the water, or worse . . ..  But truth be told, while you may not want your child swallowing the pool water to reduce the risk of a water born illness (see Noteworthy at the end of the article), getting water in one’s mouth comes with the territory of swimming.

Take a look at the underwater photo of my 19-month-old Jeb and me on the Swim Lessons University homepage. We’re both smiling, and our mouths are actually open.  Neither Jeb nor I am choking on the water!  Amazing?!?!  Not at all . . . We can all have water in our mouths, and without even thinking about it, not allow it to enter the throat/pharynx.  So when your child has his/her mouth open above or underwater, it’s simply a sign that he or she is relaxed, and instinctively, he/she will likely not choke on or swallow the water.

What if you or a child does swallow a little water?  Is he/she at risk of drowning?  Of course not!   It’s no different than taking a drink.  As the water enters the throat/pharynx, the epiglottis closes and prevents the water from entering the respiratory pathways and the lungs, and it enters the stomach instead.  Here is a  good video clip to illustrate how it works.

So if your child or student has their mouth open, he is simply at ease and very relaxed. He is not going to “consciously” breathe the water into the throat, which may cause him to cough.  This usually occurs because a little panic sets, but usually the younger the child, the less common this occurs. The older the child, or the more aware the child is of what is going on, the more common it is for a child to panic and cough a little on the water.  This is why by age three, Swim Lessons University Swim Instructor Training teaches instructors to make sure children are choosing to go underwater at their own will, and to never force an involuntary submersion on a child.  They will go under happily when they are ready!

When you or a child coughs or chokes on a little bit of water, while it may be a little scary, it is not dangerous.   If you ever see a swim instructor “laugh it off” instead of coddle and bring more attention to it, the swim teacher is not being insensitive.  Rather, the swim instructor is redirecting the student’s attention vs. bringing more unnecessary attention to it.   This is also the reason why parents and teachers shouldn’t point out to a child that his mouth is open and instruct him to close it as if he is in serious danger.  Why scare him and make him nervous over something that’s not worth being nervous over? You would be literally un-teaching what you want to teach.  Of course the purpose of this article is to give you a better understanding of the facts, so that you can help your young swimmers have  happy swim lesson experiences!

Noteworthy: Experts do agree that you should avoid swallowing pool water.  Chlorine does kill waterborne germs, but chlorine levels fluctuate in pools, especially busy, crowded pools.  And germs are not equally susceptible to chlorine–some germs take longer to destroy than others.

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January 26, 2011 at 9:50 pm
2 comments »
  • January 5, 2012 at 3:28 amcheap portland insurance

    Many thanks for the time you spent to make this post


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