Before you teach your babies to swim, you should realize that kids can’t really swim on their own until they are at least age four and up (with proper training). Before that age, kids don’t really have that hand, eye, and breathing coordination yet.
I might make that sound awfully fancy, but the idea is that if your child can’t follow instructions from a swimming teacher properly then it’s most likely she is not ready to swim on her own yet. You can tell your child is ready if she gains the ability to multitask. For example, let’s say she can draw on a piece of paper while chewing on some bread. That might seem second nature to you, but for underdeveloped toddlers, it’s impossible.
Of course, even though that is the case, it doesn’t mean you can’t begin swimming lessons ahead of time. According to AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) you can begin teaching babies age one year and above to get comfortable being in a pool. This should be supervised by an adult at all times.
Getting Comfortable With Water
I’ve brought my daughter to the pool at least three times already since she was twelve months old. Nevertheless, she freaks out almost every time she goes to the pool. If even a drop of water ends up on her face, she would start crying as if someone torn her favorite doll to pieces. However, I am a patient person. I know some things cannot be forced.
Recently, I took her to a water park to get splishy and splashy. She was a bit scared at first. However, very soon she will let herself at least go belly deep in the pool. Some kids swam by and splashed water all over her face.
She cried as if her life depended on it of course. I was about to grab her, leave the pool and call it a day. However, she persisted in staying there. Later, I found out that she wasn’t necessarily scared. She was actually scared and excited at the same time.
The Mental Game
When your child is scared of something, your immediate reaction is might be to get her out of the situation as soon as possible. This is a normal reaction, unless you happen to enjoy seeing your child depressed and tortured. I sure hope not.
Nevertheless, panicking and quickly withdrawing your child from a situation isn’t always the correct approach. The reason I say that is because you are judging the situation too quickly without giving your child a chance to learn and experience something new properly.
Even though that’s the case, you should never force your child to do something she is absolutely afraid of. Instead, you have to show her that it is absolutely fun to play in the water and go splishy and splashy before you attempt to make her do it.
The key is to have fun yourself first.
Teach Her Through Imitation
Continuing my story from earlier. After my daughter freaked out from splash attacks, I handed her over to my wife and started splashing around water myself alone. I didn’t make eye contact with my daughter and just had fun on my own.
After five minutes of doing so, my daughter finally brought out her courage once more and started splashing with me. This is a sign that she is more excited being in water rather than being afraid of it.
As an ambitious parent, I walked further towards the deeper parts of the pool to see if my daughter would follow me.
She did follow me to a certain extent. As we reached an area where the water barely goes above her belly, she started crying. This is exactly where I mentally drew the line of what she can tolerate.
This is the correct way to get my daughter comfortable with water. I was leading her instead of forcing her.
Of course, if there’s a right way to do it, then obviously there’s a wrong way to do it. If you did this process incorrectly, and shoved your child towards the deeper parts of the pool, then you just made the learning process a lot harder.
If you made your child become afraid of water, then she wouldn’t even approach the pool at all not to mention touching the water.
The reason this is important is because fear is a strong emotion. You don’t want your child to become afraid because you will most likely not be able to get rid of her fears for years to come.
As adults, we are pretty decent when it comes to controlling our breaths. Of course, not everybody can do it like yoga masters, but we can certainly hold our breaths for a brief period of time.
I am going to assume you got your child comfortable with water correctly as I mentioned earlier. Now it is time to teach your child how to breathe and hold her breath properly around water.
However breathing is a very subtle from an outside viewer. A regular adult probably can’t tell your breathing patterns all the time. How can you teach that to a baby?
Even though breathing is a subtle thing, you can make it obvious so that your baby can learn it.
The idea is to exaggerate.
Breathing Exaggeration Technique
When you teach your child breathing techniques, make sure you exaggerate every movement so that she can “see” how you are doing it while having fun.
First start off with a harmless splashing game. Children love splashing so this sets a good mood. Splash for a little while to make sure your child is comfortable.
While you are splashing with your baby, start getting into the next “game”. Puff up your cheeks full of air as if you are inflating a balloon. This is an exaggerated version of inhalation.
Next, blow the air out while puckering your lips to make a slight “whistling” sound.
Every time you do one step, watch your child closely to see if she is copying you. Don’t get mad (you should stay calm and patient all the time anyway) if your child doesn’t seem to be copying you at all.
A variation of the whistling is to stick your lips into shallow water and blow bubbles into it.
Having your child imitate your breathing can take ten tries or one hundred tries so be patient. You might not even be able to accomplish this for months.
After you have successfully taught your child how to breath in and out consciously. The next step is to teach her how to hold her breath.
Breath Holding Technique
To help your child hold her breath, you will have to prepare a little for this training. Of course, just like all the other training earlier, this will be in the form of another little “game”.
For this technique, you will need to hold something between your lips. Ideally, you should use something like a straw. The game works like this. While holding your nose with one hand, and straw between your lips, dip your face into the water and stay absolutely still.
The idea behind this game is that you can’t bite, or drop the straw. The reason is because if your child can hold the straw without biting or dropping it then she would have learned to hold her breath properly. Using a straw would also show signs of air bubbles if she held her breath improperly. To make the game more fun, drop something into the water and poke it with your straw.
Breath Holding Technique Variation
If the straw holding game is a bit too complicated for your child, there’s a variation to helping your child hold her breath. It goes like this. While you and your child are in the water, blow hard into your child’s face. When you do that, your child will naturally hold her breath for a few seconds.
During that brief moment, quickly dip your child’s face into water and bring her back up quickly. In theory, this technique should help your child overcome the fear of dipping her whole face into the water. However, calibrate this technique to your child’s comfort level. If she is not comfortable after you tried it once, don’t try again.
I hope this article provided you with some pretty good tips. However, you can try everything here, and your child still wouldn’t learn how to be comfortable around water for months or years. That is alright. Not every child is the same. You should have realistic expectations of a what a toddlers is capable of doing. Never be forceful, and let your child take her time in learning.
Another thing I want to remind you is that even if your child has successfully learned to hold her breath, it does not mean that you can leave her alone in water at any time. This is true no matter how shallow the water is. Drowning often happens because parents are overly comforable without paying attention. If you have any comments, please leave it in the comments section below. Happy swimming.