Every parent wants his or her kids to be healthy and happy.
Swimming is one of those things that gives our little ones great exercise and smiling from ear to ear. Sure, the goal may not be to raise the next Michael Phelps or Natalie Coughlin, but making them swim safe is on top of every parent’s mind.
Swim safe is a term I learned from Michelle Lang, swim instructor at and owner of Safe Swimmer in LA. Michelle practically grew up in the water with her swim instructor mother before becoming a coach herself. She teaches people how to be “swim safe”, rather than “pool safe”, a state in which the swimmer has complete control over his or her mind and body in any situation.
- A calm mental presence coupled with a strong body allows the swimmer to get out of dangerous waters. I was shocked to find out that according to the NCHS, drowning was the most common cause of death for children between 1 and 4, and second most common cause for youngsters between 5 and 9.
Without a doubt, formal classes are absolutely essential for kids to master swim safety skills but Michelle has graciously shared with us a list of activities parents can do with their little ones in the pool or bathtub to get them ready for formal lessons. Let’s dive in!
- Drop the cuddling: “Hold your child in front of you and let him or her kick around”, advises Michelle. “Let them stand on the step of your pool. Spot them as needed so they don’t tip over but let them experience what standing in the water feels like. Kids can do a lot more than parents think they can so let them explore the water…but never leave your child unattended!”
- Relax: Yes, you, the parent. “The most important thing for the parent is to feel ready and relaxed. If you are nervous, your child will get nervous. It’s nearly impossible to teach a child how to swim if the caregiver is nervous.”
- Focus on the positive: Chances are that your child will cry. But instead of focusing on the crying, talk about the good things your child did in the water: “I saw you do the monkey crawl” or “Oh, you put your head in the water.” “If you give too much attention to the tears, your child will think that that’s the best thing that happened in the water. Without realizing it, you are reinforcing the behavior you don’t want him or her to exhibit”, continues Michelle.
- Use your bathtub for training: Bathtubs are great for increasing kids’, especially babies’ comfort level in the water. Let the water run down their faces so they can get a sense of submersion. Give them a 1-2-3 count and let them know the water is coming before it trickles down your little one’s face. If her or she cries, stay calm. Eventually, the crying will go away.
- Blow bubbles in the bathtub: Bubbles are not only fun but they teach breath control. Let your child breathe in when he or she comes up and have him or her blow bubbles upon exhaling under water. The sooner you can teach this trick to your child, the better so breathing in the water can feel natural to them, an absolute must for becoming a strong mental swimmer. Check out this and other bathtub exercises here.
- Get the right support: Ideally, Michelle advises against floaties but if your child can’t swim and you don’t want to be in the pool 24/7, go ahead, put them in one. Her choice of swim support is a tube or a vest as it wraps around their mid-section and provides the proper mechanics for swimming. Water wings, on the other hand, create the impression that you float from your arms rather than from your center, making Michelle less enthusiastic about this form of swim support.
On a related note, mermaid fins are very popular these days but make sure that your child is a really strong swimmer before you stick his or her feet in one because they hinder your kid’s ability to kick.
The sooner you can enroll your child in swim lessons, the better. “Although kids make the most progress at 18 months, the younger ones can learn breath control and gliding sooner. Learning how to float can be a fun activity for the child as well as the parent so get them in the pool as soon as you can”, concludes Michelle.
A million bubbles thanks, Michelle for your insights on how to increase our little ones’ comfort level in the water and get them ready for formal lessons!
Disclaimer: Try these tips from Michelle at your own risk. We always recommend that you consult a swim instructor to discuss what’s best for your child. Please look for a professional in your area or contact Michelle.
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