At What Age to Swim Unsupervised???

Updated on July 16, 2012
J.F. asks from Bloomington, IN
35 answers

Would you allow a 5 1/2 y.o. and an almost 8 y.o. to swim in a 10' diameter pool, 3 feet deep unsupervised? Questioning a family member's choice.

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So What Happened?

We did not witness the kids in the pool while we were there. But, it was clear that it was a regular part of their day. We were asked several times if our daughters could get in (age 2 and 4). That would require me and my husband to get in the pool with them. The water would have been at my oldest's daugther's nose. We didn't have the time for my husband and I to get our suits on, get in the pool, etc. in the time frame before we made dinner, eat, and go to a movie. So we said no. We were looked at like we were crazy that we didn't just put the girls in life vests and throw them in unattended -- however, they didn't say a word. Later, when I said that I would have to get in the pool with the girls, my SIL looked at me like she didn't understand. She grabbed a life vest and tried it on my 2 year old. Like that should be enough.

My brother at one point did say, "They can't swim, so no they aren't getting in. Period." But, that means that they feel their kids are good "enough" swimmers, and allow them to get in the pool often, unattended.

My brother and SIL work for themselves and often allow the kids to entertain themselves. I think they have a false sense of safety with the kids in the pool since they have taken swimming lessons lately, and are taller than average kids. But, I also know that the parents get engrossed in their projects even if they are 50 feet away.

My biggest worry (besides my niece and nephew drowning) is that these parents are the best choice we have as guardians for our children if something were to happen to us. Seeing this type of parenting concerns me, as well as other things that they do differently than us. I just don't know if safety is something that I can compromise. Thanks for your responses.

Featured Answers



answers from Los Angeles on


I'm a certified lifeguard. I live in Southern California, I have an in-ground pool in my backyard.

it takes 2 tablespoons of water to drown.


11 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

No never. If a child can drown in a bucket of water why would anyone leave them unattended in a pool?

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Kids should never be unsupervised unless they are proficient swimmers. Public pools usually don't allow kids under six to be without a grownup in the water with them.

7 moms found this helpful

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answers from Washington DC on

My gut instinct says never. Not because I don't think my kids can swim but sh$t happens.

My two boys would start rough-housing and someone would get hurt. Although they know my rules so they know they would get 10 hours in the naughty chair!! (sorry - couldn't resist!!) no really - they get trust from me when they earn it.

can they swim or just play in the water?

If they can swim - I would say "here are the rules. these are the consequences for breaking those rules." They try it for 15 minutes at a time. I would NOT close the door behind me - I would want to hear them.

My youngest fell off the diving board and fell head-first on the concrete decking when he was 5. I was JUST getting out of the pool - thank God other people saw it. 911 was called and he was checked over - nothing was wrong with him (again Thank God and the angels he has on his shoulders). Took him to the hospital for XRAYS - I held him tight for about 5 hours after the incident. He looked up at me with his black eyes and said "I'm fine mommy. You can let go now." I ran upstairs BAWLING my eyes out. I don't drink and I had a drink that night! LOL!!

Any way - the person knows their kids best. If you disagree - that's your choice and prerogative.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My parents have a pool in there backyard. It does go down to 8 feet, but there rules were always no one under 16 allowed to swim unsupervised, and no one is allowed to swim alone. I remember once I left my 24 year old boyfriend in the pool by himself while I went to the bathroom. My mom came out and sat with him while I was gone and I got a lecture for leaving him alone.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Lynchburg on


I would be out there with them...

I think BECAUSE it is such a small would be easy to let one's guard down... really takes so little time...and such a small amount of water for a really BAD outcome.

When we had 'smaller' scale pools...(and younger...not so hot swimmers) I had some kind of sprinkler set up for them when I had to 'clear the pool'...

Maybe I am paranoid...but like to think I am safe.

When we had a full size pool...If they (ANY KIDDOS) had not had lifeguard training...I (or another swimming/cpr certified adult) was there.


It does not take much standing water...and it does not take long...for tragedy!


***and I wore my mommy bathing suit at every***


9 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

nope... No one should swim unsupervised in all reality.... especially not little kids.
I had a doughboy, and when mine were 7 and 8 I could see them from the livingroom easily enough, about 20 feet from our sliding glass door. If I wouldnt have been able to see them I wouldnt have left them out there alone.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

It's never ever wise to swim alone - not in a pool nor in the ocean - not anywhere.
Not even for adults.
It doesn't take much to slip, bump your head, and if you are face down in the water (it only takes inches) - you have a tragedy.
If there's no supervision - no one goes swimming.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

The answer is simple, when they can swim!

For my kids it was around the age of ten. Not that they couldn't swim but I kept getting this feeling they may think it funny to hold the other under water too long. Better safe than sorry.

Also, water is my greatest fear so take that into consideration while reading this.

Just so you understand where I am coming from all my kids were in swimming lessons at six months. They could "swim" the length of a pool by two. Still it was ten before I felt they had the common sense to be in a pool without me life guarding. Even now with them 13 and 11 I still check on them, a lot, they are still not allowed in the pool if I am not home. My oldest is 24, he can use the pool any time he likes, then again he can also marry and reproduce so ya know?

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

According to the Red Cross, nobody should ever swim alone. Ever.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My boys are around that age (8 & 6) and they have had an in-ground pool (that is 8ft in deep end) their WHOLE lives, have had swimming lessons every year since they were each 2y/o, can each dive in and retrieve a penny off the deep end, as well as retrieve the pennies from a treading water position (which is a lot more difficult), can hold their breaths long enough to swim from one end of the pool to the other end of the pool, can do almost all types of strokes (besides the butterfly-that one is hard) and have practiced and accomplished retrieving each other off the deep end of the pool-just in case (which takes a LOT of skill to get yourself to stay at the bottom AND to pull up the other brother) have even used teamwork to get their Dad off the bottom of the pool (I can't make myself stay at the bottom long enough, I am not that skilled) and are what I would consider 'excellent' swimmers for their ages and I would probably allow them to swim in a pool that size 'somewhat' unsupervised, meaning I would ALWAYS be within ear shot and HAVE to put eyes on them or do the I say: 'Marco' and they say: 'Polo' check in, every 10 mins or way around it, just too scary!

~My 4y/o was the 'earliest' swimmer in the family, she learned to swim w/out the life jacket at 2.5 y/o and can now swim the length of the pool w/out stopping and can jump off the diving board, she is basically a fearless tadpole and I worry about ALL of my kids drowning in my dreams ALL the time and my husband and I have done EVERYTHING we can to ensure they are safe around water...but it is never enough!

As others have said, it is just too easy for something to happen and a child to drown. Not worth the risk, IMO.

My sister and I grew up in LA and spent a good portion of our childhood at the parents let us swim in the ocean unattended ALL the time...I can remember getting out of the water and having to walk back up the beach to find our parents b/c the tides would have pushed us so far away...Now that I am an adult with kids of my own I question my parents judgement! I mean what were they thinking???

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

And at our country club pool unsupervised kids between the ages of 8 and 14 can only be there during lifeguard hours. Kids younger than that must ALWAYS have an adult present. I'm pretty sure most public pools have similar rules.
I'm pretty much a "free range" parent but not when it comes to open water :(

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Not unless I was just trying to get rid of them... seriously no, I would not even if they were totally able to swim. There are always things that can happen. The pool could even break and they get trapped in it as it goes down.

To many risk factors to even begin to list.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

Never. Never, ever, ever, ever. I wouldn't let a teenager swim unsupervised even if they were a lifeguard. Even lifeguards and Olympic swimmers don't swim alone.

EDIT: Supervised means there must be someone present and capable of jumping into the water within SECONDS of realizing that there's a problem. Watching a child or teen or other swimmer from inside the house out a window is NOT supervising. It's fooling yourself into believing your children are safe and "good enough swimmers" and if your children did begin to drown you'd never know it. By the time you did realize it, you would have lost precious MINUTES.

It's irresponsible not to be poolside when supervising kids in a pool. Period.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Never. Even if the children are "water safe", I wouldn't. All kinds of things can happen in the water and I would feel terrible if something happened and I wasn't there. Safety 1st---always.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

My kids are 5 and almost 8. We have a considerably smaller pool (8' diameter, two feet deep) I am either in our screenhouse nearby or in the lawn chair right next to the pool. If I have to leave to use the bathroom, I make them hug the edge or stand up till I get back. And that is all I ever leave them for. Never more than two minutes.
I am so so glad that I read your post and all the replies. It has helped me realize that I'm not a paranoid, helecopter mom. My husband needs to read this post. I think he thinks they are good enough swimmers and can just stand up if they get in a bind. ... Wrong!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

i dont think i would ever let my kids swim unsupervised no matter how old they are or how good of a swimmer they are! the thought of that terrifies me! there is just too many things that can go wrong so fast! there are some teenagers around here who have died recently from swimming alone unsupervised!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

I guess height doesn't come into this if it is only 3 ft deep.

Honestly my 9 yo is probably mature enough to do this, Alone, but not with a younger sibling. But i would never have him swim alone anyways, so mute point. I think 2 together can get into a lot more trouble than 1 on their own.

Is 14 too old?? right now that's about how old i think the youngest would have to be.

just wanted to post here an update. I saw some one talked about being in Ear shot. Drowing in silent, if they hit their head or go under playing around and can't get back up, you aren't going to hear them calling for help. they are going to slip under that water silently and DROWN!

Please please take care of your kiddos.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

drowning is the second leading cause of death in children under 18 (according to my hubby the paramedic)... if your 8 yo hits his head and knocks himself out can your 5 1/2 yo save his life? or vise versa? or can either one go without oxygen long enough for the other one to come and find you?

with that being said, I grew up on a lake, we swam without an adult present when we were in high school, but never alone. it is a very clear safe private lake. I think I would still follow that rule with my own kids now.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Totally depends on the kids involved.

Also the definition of 'unsupervised'.

Some kids are strong swimmers and very responsible / can totally handle themselves in the water. Other kids... Well a number of corful examples leap to mind. A less colorful one is my sister and myself. I was swimming unsupervised 5 YEARS before she was age wise (7 years in real time). I was a fish, she wasn't.

Some people do t consider 'in earshot' supervised. Some people don't consider line of sight supervised. Some people don't consider 3 feet away, but __________ (earbuds in, reading, on the phone, etc.) supervised. Some people don't consider grilling 10 feet away to be supervised.

Other people consider being inside totally checked out watching a movie (or whatever) to be supervised because an adult is home.

My kitchen was in line of sight of our (deep) pool. I could easily keep eyes and ears on my son while washing dishes and cooking. No worries. His older cousin, I'd bring a book and chair and be in grabbing distance. Like my sister and myself... 2 totally different kids.

For me, it's on a case by case basis.

- Former RescueSwimmer

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on


A person, kid or adult, can drown in even 1/2 inch - 2" of water.

And of course, I would not leave an 8 year old to have sole responsibility of supervising the younger child.

Read this, about drowning facts as well:

And put it this way, knowing how to swim, regardless of age, and no matter how good a person is at swimming... a person can still drown or have an accident in the water. NO matter, what age.
Knowing how to swim (expertly or not), is no way a predictor of if a person can/will drown or not. And if they are invincible in the water.

You are talking about, per your post, a 10' diameter kiddie pool that is 3 feet deep.
No. I would not leave the kids in there unsupervised.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Do you mean not in the water with them or not at the pool with them?
My boys are almost 7 and almost 10. I go to the pool with them all the time and usually am in the water with them. The one time I wasn't in the water I was watching the whole time. They are not strong swimmers and I would be CRUSHED if they were to have a water accident.
I am not all that concerned at a park. Usually that would result in a broken arm/leg or a sprain. Water injuries usually result in death. I don't think I would allow my kids to swim on their own until they were in their mid teens. Even if that means that I am just sitting on the side keeping an eye.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Dont think I would let the 5.5 year old. My kids are 9 and 11 and have been in the water since they were a few months old. At our old house we had built in pool and spent most summer days out there. Now that we have moved we have above ground pool. It is about 4.5 feet deep. I let the kids swim out there together or with their friends (I always ask the parents first) with out me. I have perfect view from the family room and kitchen and open windows to hear them. The rule is if I have to go upstairs everyone out of the pool!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

No! There is a reason public pools don't allow children that age to come there without an adult even when there is a lifeguard on duty.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Without a doubt, no! All of my kids are great swimmers. The two oldest are 14 and they are not allowed in the pool without an adult outside. Your family member is dangerous and negligent.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Nope. My brother's friend drowned while swimming with her friends (early teens.) Her friends thought she was kidding around when she was motionless at the bottom of the pool. Her lung had collapsed and she had drowned. Unfortunately none of them knew CPR. : (

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I'd say preteen/middle school age, at minimum. Other than that, never.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

no. Not unsupervised.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

They do not allow that here in the public pools and I know there are signs that are to be placed in all "public~ private pools" (apartments, hotels, etc).. in the city.

An adult must be with the children to be able to even enter the public facilities.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i guess it depends on the kid and what you mean by 'unsupervised.' if it was a child who couldn't swim, i'd be right there. with kids who knew how to swim, with a pool that shallow i'd be fine with them being in while i bomped about nearby. they'd probably need to be pre-teen-ish before i'd be comfortable being out of line of sight, and then not for long.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I'm going to be the odd ball here. The big rule to follow is never swim alone. I wouldn't let my 5.5 year old swim unsupervised. However, I would let my 5.5 year old swim with an older sibling in a 3' deep pool if I were home. I let my 4.5 year old and 5.5 year old cousin swim together in a 30" pool with moderate supervision because they could both stand in the pool, and they can both swim. I don't see a problem if the child can stand in the whole pool, can swim, and has a buddy.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

If it was only 3 feet, and I was confident in my kids behaviour and swimming skills, I might just check on them frequently and keep and ear on them, but I would probably wait until the older child was twelve to supervise the younger child. My kids have been taking lessons since they were toddlers, and I fully expect that by twelve they will be well on their way to earning lifesaving certification.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

depends on how well they can swim. If they are little swimmers that are used to swimming every day.. it might be OK.. I know htat my kids can swim a tiny bit.. so I would not let them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I haven't read your SWH yet, just responding to the direct question posted:
No. Absolutely not. No way.

What everyone's definition of supervised is, however, may be a little different.
In that situation, I would be somewhere that I could see into the pool. Inside looking out a window doesn't work very well for an above the ground pool usually.

If the 8 yr old was the youngest, and there was an 11 yr old (same age difference) then I might "consider" it, but it would depend a lot on the maturity of the kids and how long and well they had been versed in pool/water safety.
We have an inground pool, and this is the first summer that I have not sat outside right beside the pool every time my kids are in the water. They are 11 and 14, and this is the 7th year we have been in this house with the pool. When they have company, I stay much closer, because the guests may NOT know all the rules, when it is just my own 2 kids, they do, and they follow them.
But I still keep a close eye out the window (10 feet away from the side of the pool). I can see them standing in my kitchen while I am at the sink washing vegetables, for example. The pool is in a screened enclosure attached to the back of the house/covered patio.

But kids the ages you described, with a pool that you cannot see into from a few feet away b/c it is above ground? No. Way.

ETA: Oh, and NEVER would I let EITHER of them swim alone. They both have to be there for me to be inside the house. Even when my husband hops in to cool off after running, I watch out the window. You never know what could happen. Alone is a bad thing. Nobody sees if something happens. Once (after getting in to cool off after running on a really hot day when the water was very cool) he jumped in and immediately got leg cramps. He couldn't stand up. Luckily he made it to the side and grabbed the edge of the pool until I could give him a float, and give him some gatorade to alleviate the cramps.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I have let my kids in the pool while am I sitting on the edge watching them...not in the water but on the edge. Always with life vest on.

Unsupervised to me they are alone with no adult supervision no way as I described above not in the pool...but sitting directly there watching them...yes.

1 mom found this helpful
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