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Yes, Your Child Needs Swimming Lessons

Photograph by Twenty20

The summer my son turned five, I got a bit too ambitious and signed him up for every two-week session of swim class that our town offered. I figured an entire summer in the local pond was bound to turn him into a little fish before he reached kindergarten.

Ah, the best laid plans.

Maybe you know what happened next. Or rather what didn’t happen. In the first class, he hated the idea of putting his head underwater, and the unseasoned teenage instructor had zero patience for teaching the skills slowly, on a child’s timeline. “You’ve got to dunk your head,” the kid insisted, “or we can’t move on to the next skill.” I recall him counting to five, like a threat.

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My boy cried and freaked out, and I backed down and cancelled the rest of the lessons, deciding that I was pushing him too fast, not unlike the instructor.

I think I did the right thing in taking him out of that particular class, but I made a mistake in not immediately finding him another one more suited to his pace and temperment. After all, unlike soccer and basketball and drama camp, swimming lessons actually save lives. A lot of kids drown every summer, but those who are strong swimmers do better in challenging water situations.

Not only that, swimming, unlike many other sports provides a full workout with little painful impact on the body. If you want your child to get toned and fit while learning an essential survival skill, swimming is definitely a great way to go.

I’m not sure there's a more useful sport for any child to master well, for their own safety and your composure.

But the most important reason of all for your child to learn to swim well is your own peace of mind. There have been several times in recent years when my teenage son has gone off with friends to lakes and ponds, and I've had to hope that he wouldn't get in over his head, literally.

"Don't go out farther than you can handle," I'll warn him as he bolts out the door with his buddies. "I'm fine, Mom," he assures me, but I also know how kids are. They can overestimate their own capabilities or, unwilling to look foolish, try to keep up with their friends. In the water, that can result in dreadful consequences.

My son is off to college next year and with a few sessions of lessons here and there, has learned to swim well enough. While dealing with rough waves, he applies the physical strength he developed through soccer and body surfs with the best of them. But body surfing is not swimming, and it’s no substitute for being able to comfortably handle what the ocean sometimes hand outs in the form of riptides and undertows.

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I wish I’d been tougher back then and insisted on enough swimming lessons to make my son highly competent in the water. I’m not sure there's a more useful sport for any child to master well, for their own safety and your composure.

And he doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to push him to take swimming lessons this summer. The good news for him is that there are all kinds of options from private classes in a public pool, to the independent instructor who will meet you at a lake. Whatever it takes, he’s going to get proficient. I’ve been slack about swim lessons, but you shouldn’t be.

You'll thank me later when you have one less thing to worry about.

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