Wednesday, July 1, 2015

3 Biggest Tips to Teach Your Child to Swim

My 2-year-old is a fish. This is kind of a boastful thing to say, I realize, but I'm trying to celebrate my parenting victories (there are many failures, believe me). It's also necessary that he's a good swimmer. You see, I've been a Red Cross certified swim instructor for twenty-ish years. If my kid doesn't swim well, then there goes my reputation.

Last week we visited family in Colorado, where we all enjoyed some time at the pool. Not surprisingly, the Wee Boy was the only small child who would jump off the side, swim underwater and get himself across the pool without help or a flotation device. After a fun afternoon where we all swam in the hotel pool, a cousin asked me straight up: What's the secret? How did you get your boy to swim so well?

She's hardly the only person to ask this. Everyday at the pool, someone asks me for tips, knowing full well that I've been teaching lessons more than half my life. I could go on and on about this (and have written other blogs on the subject), but here are the three biggest tips I can offer:

Take your child to the pool as often as possible.

This seems really obvious, but so many parents write it off. If you only go swimming when you have a swim lesson scheduled, then it's going to take a lot longer to learn how to swim. A huge part of swimming is muscle memory. Give those muscles time to learn. 

Put your own head underwater.*

  If I had a dollar for every parent who refuses to get his hair wet, but then asks me how I got my child to go underwater... Actually, I have many dollars for this because those kids end up taking extra swim lessons! Remember the whole idea of modeling behavior for your children? You can't let your child watch you eat pizza, but insist she eat Brussels sprouts.
  If it's a problem because you're having a good hair day and don't want to mess it up, well, first of all I feel you -- big time. But maybe don't go swimming that day then? Your child needs to see you going underwater, blowing bubbles, searching for treasure (a game we love to play), laughing and having such a good time. Think about it.
*If you don't know how to swim, please sign yourself up for swim lessons first. A good private instructor can teach you, if you put in the effort to practice. Essentially, it's just physics. Floating is easier than sinking.

Avoid arm floaties, puddle jumpers, etc.

  This is the one I'll take grief for. My friends' kids use them, and that's fine -- and not my business, unless they ask. It's not a judgment though. My anxiety is through the roof when it comes to my child, so I understand wanting every sense of security you can get. But if you ask me how to teach your child to swim, the first thing I'll say is, "Lose the floaties."
  Think for a moment: if you follow my second piece of advice and get in the water with your child, then there is no need for floaties. You are right there to hold, comfort and be there for your child.
  Water wings and puddle jumpers keep swim instructors in business. It takes so many extra lessons to unteach all the bad habits that those devices instill. Don't believe me? Ask the child who has worn water wings all his life to use a kickboard properly (arms on the board, not bellies). Children who wear floaties learn to kick with heavily bended knees, almost as if they are riding a bicycle. It's really difficult to unlearn that habit (again: muscle memory!).
  Your child needs to learn what it feels like to float -- to learn where her center of buoyancy is and to relax in the water. Floaties change that center of buoyancy, and that's a critical flaw.
  Another issue is the false sense of security these devices give both you and your child. (Please, every lifeguard in the world begs you, don't just put a puddle jumper on your kiddo and read a book in a lounge chair!)

I hope this was helpful. I have a zillion other tips I can offer up -- and I will in other blogs -- but for now, these are the three biggest factors in learning. I also hope this doesn't offend any of my friends (I see you with your puddle jumpers, and I know you won't give them up!). You know I love you. 

Swim classes this week:
If anyone in Louisville is a member of Lakeside, come drop-in on my Baby Sing & Swim™ class that begins next week, Wednesday, July 8. It's a parent/child class appropriate for infants up to 2 years old, where we'll sing songs and learn techniques on how to play with your child in the water while teaching him valuable skill sets. 
There is also an AquaTot class starting next week ... sign up at

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