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(PIX11) — The ability to tread water or back float could be the difference between life and death for children, for whom the leading cause of accidental death is drowning.

That’s why May – just ahead of the summer swim season – has been declared National Drowning Awareness month.

Children as young as 6 months can be introduced to the water, as long as a pediatrician gives the OK.

So health officials and advocates are urging parents to teach their children two basic skills that could prevent drowning: how to tread water and how to float on their backs.

Agnes Davis, founder of New York-based Swim Swim Swim I Say, said the biggest mistaken people who can’t swim make is panicking.

She said the most important thing to do is to stay calm and try to flip over to a back float or tread water, making it possible to call for help.

Repetitive teaching will help make those life-saving skills second nature.

To put the lessons in a kid-friendly perspective, parents and instructors holding the tiny swimmers under their arms can instruct them to lay back just like they do in bed, with their head back, chin and chest up.

If a child is fearful of the water, parents are encouraged to find an instructor who’s patient and willing to start at where the child is ready, not where they think the child should be.

Davis said anyone near a pool needs always to be vigilant. Not being able to see the bottom of a lake or being unaware of a pool’s depth are some of the most dangerous mistakes swimmers make.

Drowning rates have risen “astronomically,” Davis said.

Health officials mark drowning as the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 to 14, and fifth leading cause of accidental death for all Americans.