Lana Whitehead, expert in baby/child swimming, international speaker, author and founder of SWIMkids USA says that early introduction to water can prevent a child's fear of water developing in the first place. She says, "A child under age 1 is less influenced by negative attitudes about the water. If parents start their child in lessons later, it can be harder to get the child comfortable on his back in the water."
Whitehead adds that at the age of 3 or 4 months, "the bathtub is a perfect place for the little one to begin developing a healthy relationship with this liquid medium." She notes that the water temperature (ideally between 87 and 93 degrees F) can also make an impact on the success of babies learning to swim.
She reminds parents that all bodies of water are drowning hazards for babies, even toilets, buckets and bathtubs with shallow water. Parents should be within arm's reach of an infant near or in water at all times during this stage.
Dr. Linda Quan, vice chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and member of its Aquatic Sub-Council, says, "By 4 years of age, the average child should be able to learn to swim. That means that some children may be ready to learn to swim before four years and some at a later age. Regardless of age, progress in swimming skills depends on the child, how comfortable he or she is in the setting, and the frequency of lessons."
When teaching toddlers and young kids how to swim, The Houstonian Club's Erica Meyer, water safety instructor, swim instructor and lifeguard instructor, says that it is important to have a lot of patience and be emphatic and understanding of your child's fear. She adds, "Make learning skills a game, rather than a task. Make it fun, and know when to push and when to back off — know when there is true anxiety on the part of the youngster."
She also adds that providing a nurturing and positive environment, including congratulating them when they are progressing, and assuring them that they will get better when they are having trouble, is crucial at this stage.
Kristen Beckworth, manager of Texas Children’s Center for Childhood Injury Prevention suggests parents and caregivers of infants, toddlers and young children should take a course in CPR in case of an emergency.
She also suggests designating one or more adults to wear Water Watcher tags to supervise kids at swim parties. Beckworth says, "Many organizations offer free water watcher tags that can be worn for a period of time while actively supervising children in the water. The tag is then passed on to another responsible adult to take their turn. Water watchers actively supervise children and are not distracted by texting, reading, drinking alcohol or socializing. If you do not have an actual Water Watcher tag, use something easily identifiable [such as a] hat, bandana or arm band."
Whitehead also believes that teenagers who don't yet know how to swim should be enrolled in swim lessons versus taught at home. She says, "For over 14 years of age, a professional teacher and not a friend or family member teaching is key."
Dr. Quan says that adolescents need supervision around the water, too. She says, "Just as a teen should explain where he is going to take the car, has rules about driving, wears seatbelts, doesn't drink and drive and has a graduated driving license, swimming and water activities should involve the same thoughtful planning around destination to swim, activities, avoidance of alcohol, use of life jackets if in any vessel/inner tube/raft."
Dr. Quan also adds a final thought regarding helping your child address a fear of water at any age. She says, "Parents model good behaviors and the child will follow. A parent who is learning to swim too is a very good way to help a child to get over his or her fear. A parent who enjoys the water — and enjoys it safely — will model this. Fear of the water is a natural and protective mechanism. A good swim/water program will work with the fearful student in a positive and supportive manner to help the student become comfortable in the water, able to acquire skills, and enjoy the aquatic environment."
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