Written by: Shani Fowler
Being able to swim can save your life. It is undoubtedly one of the important tasks we love our kids to crack – and we grin inanely, wearing smiles from ear to ear, when we hear those words “look at me I can swim!” We can be so focussed on its importance that it can lead to us being a little too eager to get them going. It’s no good slinging them in the water telling them if they flap their arms and legs around physics dictates they are sure to stay afloat! It takes a little more than that. Before you even consider getting them swimming try to get them comfortable in the water. Children don’t always have an affinity with water; many have a fear of it and hate to get their face and head wet. Getting them relaxed in water, easing them in and building up to splashing around is a great place to start.
6 months to 1 year –
Introduce children to the water making it fun, splashing around and bobbing about, show your child it won’t hurt them if they get their head wet, in fact quite the opposite applies – it’s quite good fun! Singing to a child whilst in the water can also create a good response; it soothes and comforts them as well providing a little distraction from the water. Keep it safe though always ensuring you keep a tight hold.
Don’t be tempted to submerge them as they are likely to inhale the water which contains chemicals. These can cause nausea and seizures and in very rare cases even death. Get them in a swimming nappy too to prevent any leakage into the pool.
2 to 3 years –
At this age children are more curious about the water. At this age you can play games that include throwing a ball across the pool allowing your child to reach for it. Hold them and allow them to kick their legs or support them whilst they get they float allowing them to get the sensation of water buoyancy. Let them blow bubbles which allows them to get used to having their face wet but prevents them swallowing the water. Don’t leave your child alone in the water, not even for a minute, a child in water needs constant supervision.
4 to 5 years –
Usually by this age children have developed enough of the co-ordination required to be able to swim on their own. You can usually enrol a child for formal swimming lessons at this age if you haven’t done so already. You can often be involved in taking part, making it more comfortable and relaxed for them.
In shallow water, children at this age can learn to float, co-ordinate leg and arm movement, glide through water and be taught about water safety too. Safety is still paramount so ensure your child is within ‘reach’ distance of either yourself or the instructor. Exercise plenty of patience too as children can waver from confident to fearful even within the same lesson. Swimming takes time and is about patience and confidence and praising their efforts.
6 years onwards
Children can hold their breath for longer periods of time now, and maybe confident swimming under water. They should be able to learn the different strokes involved in swimming and they will have the strength to endure longer swimming distances. Children still need high levels of supervision at this stage; even the best swimmers can get into difficulties and drown. If and when they want to learn to dive, it is essential they only do this in deep enough water and again when an adult is present.
Once a child is swimming it is always a relief and comfort for a parent, as well as being such fun for them, but always be cautious. We can all easily overestimate our own and other people’s abilities, so always make sure there are adults present. If they swim in the sea or lakes, extra care should be taken as techniques required to swim in these waters can be different to those needed for pool swimming.
Children should always wear a life jacket when boating or water-skiing whether or not they can swim. But with patience, safety and praise applied swimming should be fun for all the family.