Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Playground Magazine.
Written by Joanna Nesbit
When my daughter, Leah, was 6, I signed her up for a month’s worth of swim lessons, every day for half an hour, because, well, it worked for another mom’s kids. This mom had told me her kids’ skills didn’t progress until the third week, and a four-week block was the only way to go. Leah had taken lessons in previous summers but with little obvious success, and I feel for the mom’s advice.
What I didn’t account for was my daughter’s persistent (read: stubborn) temperament or her willingness to wage silent battle by simply not getting into the pool. Oh, some days she did, when the planets were aligned, but other mornings she sat on a deck chair and watched her toddler brother dabble with the perky swim teachers. Even when she did get in the pool, Leah steadfastly refused to dunk. Indeed, she didn’t dunk until a year later while in a hotel pool during a summer vacation. They key? Her own idea.
Swim lessons often feel nonnegotiable to parents because we care about our children’s safety, and, well, because we live in what seems to be the swimming pool capital of the world. Then there’s that pesky idea that because all of our friends’ kids love swimming, ours should, too. But not all kids take to water like dolphins.
Then keep in mind the following tips for developing water confidence in youngsters, even the most reluctant, and chances are you’ll avoid poolside battles.
#2 KEEP IT FUN
Young children progress quicker when parents interact with them in the pool, so make water play a family experience. A warm pool, 85 degrees or more, is especially important for reluctant swimmers and will help kids relax.
#3 GO TO THE POOL OFTEN
Taking your kids early and often to the pool is the single biggest factor for helping them love water. Regular visits make water normal. Sign up for parent/baby classes or plan to take your toddler to your local pool to play
#4 CONFRONT YOUR OWN FEAR
If you’re afraid of the water, you may convey to your kids that water is something to be afraid of, even if you try to hide your fear. Consider taking lessons yourself so you can comfortably join your children in the pool (you’re never too old to learn to swim).
#5 DON’T PRESSURE KIDS
Dont pressure or trick your kids into skills they’re not ready for. Praise their baby steps and trust they will progress when the time is right. If your child is fearful or timid, try a swimsuit with a built-in floatation device for extra fun and buoyancy. She’ll move beyond it when she’s ready.