It can be very stressful for a first-time parent when their little one starts out in swimming lessons. Worrying about whether your child will be open to the idea, if they will even get in the water, fearing they might slip under unnoticed or perhaps even suffer a disastrous poo accident, are all common fears a parent may have which can easily rub off on a nervous child.
But don’t worry – it’s amazing how quickly children take to the water, especially if they start swimming lessons off from an early age (with many classes available for children as young as 5 months old). Given our country’s love of water, to ensure we all have basic survivable swimming skills the Royal Lifesaving Society recommends all children take part in formal swimming lessons as early as possible, until they can at least swim 400m of continuous freestyle, 25m of another stroke and float and tread water for 2 minutes. (www.royallifesaving.com.au/__data/assets/…/RLS_BasicSwimmingReport20122.pdf Page 7)
Here are a few things you can do to help your child get started in swimming lessons and continue enjoying and excelling at them for years to come.
Preparing for your child’s first swimming class
- Know what to expect. Swimming classes for infants between 6 months and 2 years involve a parent being in the water with their child. The classes focus on familiarising the child with water and developing their confidence and basic movement through games, and introducing them to early swimming skills and developing independence in the water. Children older than 2-3 are in the pool without a parent but with a swimming instructor close by, with the focus being on teaching them water safety skills including treading water and developing essential swimming strokes.
- Make being in the water fun. Start your child off loving water from day one by making bath time fun – sing songs, have toys in the bath to squirt, squeeze and float about, let your child splash the water and themselves a bit, or let them give their favourite teddy a bath. It is important for children to become used to the water by pouring water over their face and head with a verbal trigger. This works in pre-conditioning children to having water on their face and prepares them for submersions in their swimming classes when they are ready.
- Tell them what to expect. If your child is old enough to understand, let them know what to expect from the lessons, explain the positives of knowing how to swim (for example, they’ll be able to enjoy visits to the pool and the beach) and highlight how much fun they’ll have in the classes.
- Chat to the instructor. Talk to the swimming instructor before the lesson, let them know how your child is feeling, what they are most afraid of etc. All instructors are trained and used to working with nervous children so a good instructor will be able to quickly put you and your child at ease.
- Let your child pick their swimming costume. Get your child excited about the classes by letting them choose their own swimming attire. It’s amazing what a new cozzie can do to inspire a little one to hop into the pool!
- Be Prepared and Ready for your classes: It’s recommended you have the children ready before their lesson. They should be wearing appropriate swimwear, and have goggles for their class.
- Avoid a full or empty tummy. Make sure your child is not hungry before starting their class, or too full up. Wait at least an hour after eating before they get in the pool.
While in the pool
- Protect babies with a swim nappy. All nappy-wearing babies need to have a proper disposable or reusable swimming nappy on, ideally with a plastic swim nappy on top for extra protection. Don’t assume babies won’t do their business just because they’re in water – when they need to go, they will go! So be sure they are adequately protected.
- Be with your baby. If your child is under 2 you will need to be in the pool with them. Make sure you can stand up so you’re able to focus on supporting them, or if not put a swimming noodle between your legs to enable you to float. Hold onto them at all times, go at their pace and keep smiling!
- Be positive. Encourage your child to enjoy the experience by giving them positive signs such as telling them how well they’re doing, smiling, clapping or giving a thumbs up from the side every now and then.
- Praise, praise, praise. Many children won’t instantly feel comfortable in the water and will lack the confidence to continue with the classes. Keep their spirits up by constantly praising both during and after the class, no matter how small or slow their progress is.
After the lesson
- Wrap them up warm. Be waiting after the class to wrap your child up with a towel as soon as they come out of the water.
- Dress your child first. When you’re wet after being in the pool with your baby, it’s best to wrap yourself in a towel and focus first on getting them clean, dry and dressed as quickly as possible.
- Check in with your child. Talk to your child after the class to see what they thought about it, how they liked the teacher etc. It’s quite normal for kids not to take to the idea of swimming lessons straight away so persevere with the classes. However, if they continue to be reluctant to go after a few weeks, consider changing the class, instructor, discuss options with your swim school, or try out one-to-one private swimming lessons.
- Be patient. Whilst it may feel like your child will never embrace the idea of taking part in swimming lessons, almost all kids eventually love the water and find swimming classes heaps of fun. Stick at it, remind your child why they need to learn to swim and be patient and positive.
- Practice, practice, practice. Children should be encouraged to attend swimming classes at least once a week for a number of years, in order to develop vital lifesaving swimming skills. Keep the momentum up by going to classes each week at a set time so your child gets used to a consistent routine. Children should be encouraged to practise the skills they have learned by swimming between classes – the more time young children spend in the water, the more quickly they progress. If you have a pool at home then getting in with your kids and practising swimming as often as possible will really help their progress.
- Keep supervising. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because your child is going to swimming lessons – be sure to keep constant watch over your child when in your pool, the local baths or at the beach.
At Tanya’s Tadpoles, our friendly and qualified Austswim and Swim Australia instructors have years of experience in teaching kids from the youngest of age how to swim. As we conduct the classes in your own pool your child is more likely to feel safe and confident. Find out about the classes we can offer you.