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4 Ways to Make Reluctant Swimmers Safe Around Water

Swimming has never been a joke in my family. Since the day each of my boys was born I wanted them to be comfortable in the water.

I had a niece who wouldn't even let her parents get her face wet in the bath when she was 5 years old. She freaked out when she was in a pool if her face went under. I didn't want that for my kids. We were around water all the time. They had to get comfortable in the water, whether they wanted to or not. More importantly, they needed to know how to be safe in the water as well.

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Not all kids are introduced to the water at an early age, which puts them at a disadvantage. They are already afraid of water, which certainly doesn't encourage them to want to play in it. No matter what your child's fear level is though, you need to get them into swim classes, learning to love—and also respect —the water.

Swim classes

Summer is not the first time your children should be introduced to the water. You can start in the tub by getting your baby used to a little water on their face at bath time, so it isn't such a shock. Before your kids head to school, try to get them into a baby and toddler swim class.

The best ones stress safety first, not skill. The most important thing your baby and toddler need to know how to do is pop back up when their head goes under, back-float and get themselves to the side. Once they are strong enough—and toddlers are strong enough—they need to know how to climb out of the side of a pool (hands, elbow, elbow, knee, knee). By the time my boys were three they would haul themselves out of a pool. They did not have perfect freestyles, but they could back-float. They could do enough to save themselves for a few minutes while an older kid or adult got to them.

Having this knowledge has made me much less paranoid when we are at my parents' pool or the lake. The ocean is a different story. When any sort of current is involved, my kids have life vests on even if I am holding them in the water.

Signs of drowning

The most important reason parents need to get their kids into swim classes to learn proper swimming and saving techniques is because so many of us don't actually know the signs of drowning. Thanks to Hollywood, we think it is a dramatic event when, in actuality, it is a silent killer that too few notice until it is too late.

Mario Vittone wrote one of the best articles on drowning that is out there. He lays it out, pure and simple, for people to absorb and remember. Here are the eight signs of drowning:

  • They can't call for help.
  • They can't wave for help either.
  • They remain upright in the water.
  • Their eyes are glassy.
  • Their face may be hard to see.
  • Their head is low in the water.
  • They are quiet.
  • They don't seem in distress.

"Children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you need to get to them and find out why," says Vittone. Now that you know why your kids need to take swim classes, here is how you can get your reluctant swimmer in the water:

1. Peer pressure
Your child's friends and peers are your best ally, especially if they are over the age of 4. They want to do what their friends are doing, and they don't want to look like wimps in front of them. If they have friends in the class, they are more likely to push each other to excel or at least get in the water. This is when peer pressure is a godsend for parents. When they are teens, not so much.

2. Great swim programs

Research swim programs carefully. What is their philosophy when it comes to teaching kids to swim? Are they doing it just so the kids have fun or are they teaching through games so a child can successfully make it out of the pool? For babies and toddlers, it is more important to learn through play to respect the water and wait to be asked to come in with Mom and Dad than it is for them to be brave enough to jump off the diving board. For older kids, you want to make sure you have them in a program that is actually teaching them the strokes. Doggy paddling is all well and good, but you become more tired with this sort of swimming. Specific strokes were developed because they are more efficient and can get you from point A to point B more quickly.

3. Cool teachers

Your child's teacher in school makes all the difference, and so does a teacher at swim class. If the teacher is gruff and yelling at the kids, you need to pull your child out immediately. A mean teacher can take the joy of swimming away from your child. Stick with teachers who understand that kids have a very short attention spans—they all can't sit quietly on the pool edge waiting for their turn. Teachers need to understand that the toddler who loves the water may jump in when the teacher's back is turned. You also want someone who knows how to focus their class to children's specific needs. They need to be able to adjust teaching to the child who is ahead of the class so they don't get bored, while also helping the child who is scared of water and just wants Mommy.

4. Letting go

The best thing you can do for your child is to give her space. If you have picked a great program you will know immediately by how the teacher interacts with your kid. It is the teacher's job to get your child into the pool, not yours. Unless your child is beyond hysterics, do not co-teach from the side of the pool. This does not help anyone. It confuses your child and makes him think the teacher is not in charge.

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You may need to go to the other side of the pool so your child doesn't see you. Bring your iPhone or a book to keep yourself occupied and don't hover. Anxious parents make for anxious kids. Swim instructors have been trained to get kids into the water. This is what they do. Your child is not the first kid they have met who is afraid of the water. Let them do their jobs. You are paying them after all.

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Image by Keryn Means

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