Not all kids are born water babies. In fact, some would sooner do homework while snacking on brussel sprouts than step foot near a pool, but since experts agree that there is nothing like strong swim skills to protect kids from drowning, as parents it is our job to make sure our children learn to hold their own in the water. Besides, sometimes it just takes time trying something new, and the right number of positive experiences, to turn a reluctant duckling into a freestyle champion. We talked to Sac-area swim instructors, parents and water safety experts and gathered these ten tips to help kids get the most out of their time in the pool:
1. Remember: You’re Their First Teacher
You can help your child get comfortable being in the water at a very early age. Play with babies and toddlers during bath time. Get preschoolers used to water being on their heads and in their faces. In a tub, you can help them practice being on their backs and get used to having their ears under water. See if they’ll blow bubbles with you or practice kicking (that last one might be better practiced in a kiddie pool outside).
2. Look Before You Leap
Look carefully at the school or program you are choosing and what the staff will be teaching. “There is a big difference in programs out there,” cautions Scott Morris, General Manager of Debbie Meyer Swim School.
3. Who’s the Parent?
You’re the parent! If you have decided you want your child to learn to swim, or at least start learning water safety skills, then you need to follow through. Your child is depending on you to follow through. Don't let the possible tantrums, screaming or crying deter you. If you absolutely have to, you can resort to the phrase, “Some day you’ll thank me for this.” Just don’t get freaked out when you hear your Mom’s voice coming out of your mouth.
4. Enthusiasm is Contagious
Morris advises parents to “build up the lessons as a happy, fun thing to do.” In other words, “Don't tell them they are going to learn to swim so they don't drown." Model a positive attitude toward swim lessons, and your child will follow suit.
5. Speaking of Contagious…
Chlorine is not a cure-all, people. The American Red Cross’ Water Safety Handbook states it clearly: “Germs on your body end up in the water and can make other people sick.” So, make sure your child is healthy and hygienic (i.e., showered) before you send him into the pool. Save meals and big drinks for after class, and take kids to the bathroom before class starts (and during breaks). Make sure they wash their hands thoroughly before getting back in the water.
6. Don't Drink the Pool Water
Kids need to be told. Enough said, really, but giving them the basics ahead of time means teachers can spend more time instructing kids in other things.
7. Listen Up
Teach children to pay attention to the teacher and follow teacher's rules. You can also model a positive attitude toward your child’s swim instructor simply by praising him or her when you talk to your child after class. Mention the fun games or interesting facts or gentle manner the teacher shares with students, anything that might help your child see the teacher as friendly, trustworthy and worthy of paying attention to.
8. Encourage Any Improvements
Learning anything new can involve a fair share of frustrations and challenges. Help your child see what she’s doing right and how far she’s coming along, no matter how subtle or slow her progress might be. Praise the little improvements, and help her feel good about being in swim lessons.
9. Arrive Early
Rushing makes us all more nervous, anxious and irritable—the last thing you want for a child who might already be feeling intimidated, if not terrified, of the water. “Arrive a little early so the child is not rushed,” advises Diane Robinson, Recreation Supervisor for the Cordova Recreation and Park District. A relaxed atmosphere at the start of swim lessons gets your child into the water on the right foot.
10. Practice at Home
Reinforce swim lessons at home or at the local pool. We all need practice if we want the skills we’ve learned to really sink in. If months go by between lessons, kids are bound to lose the ground they gained, but if you can give them plenty of fun practice time, they’ll get more out of their swim lessons. Jennifer, a swim instructor and Elk Grove mother of two adds, “Making sure kids practice means parents get more for their time and money, but—more importantly—your kids will gain confidence if they can keep building on their skills and becoming stronger swimmers.”