Find out the benefits of teaching your baby to swim

Keep your children safe by teaching them to swim from a young age

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The adorable wide-eyed, blue tang Dory famously said ‘Just keep swimming’. A great piece of advice for sure – but does your little one know their way around water?

According to a 2013 statistic published by the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi, drowning made up seven percent of child deaths in the UAE, the third most common cause after road accidents and falls.

This is why, more than just for recreation purposes, swimming is considered as an essential skill.

The good news is that kids are never too young to learn and you can start your child with lessons when they’re as young as five months old. 

Jason Wagner, swimming coach at Advantage Sports, says the sooner a child becomes familiar with the pool, the sooner they’ll develop water confidence. 

“I have taught many adults and they said the same thing: they wished they learned when they were younger. It’s true, the older you get, the harder it is to learn how to swim,” he says.

Baby steps

Babies are not natural born swimmers though some instinctively will hold their breath long enough to endure being submerged under water for a short while.

For this reason, lessons for babies are tailored to their limited abilities with more emphasis on getting them comfortable in the water.

“Babies can’t hold their breath on demand and they are too young to blow bubbles with their eyes under water. These skills are only learned from age two and a half years and up,” explains Jason.

At this stage the focus is more on water safety than method, getting them relaxed so they can react accordingly in certain situations.

“We’ll run a situation where they’ll fall into the pool, turn, get back and hold on to the wall, and if they’re strong enough, climb out of the pool,” says Jason.

“From around two years old, and if they’re familiar with basic water safety, the process of teaching the fundamentals will start. Their coordination is much better at this point and parents don’t need to join them in the water during sessions.”

Such sessions include plenty of singing, games and repetition to counter kids’ short attention span and to feed their inquisitive and playful nature.

Instructors encourage babies to splash gently while parents sprinkle water on their faces, using floating toys – in different fun shapes – for them to chase while swimming with hands supporting their tummies, and hula hoops for little ones to swim through underwater.

“This is done so they don’t realise that they are being taught something,” Jason continues. “With the use of colourful toys and songs – you’ll end up singing Humpty Dumpty five times during a class – their attention is taken away so they’re being taught in a fun way.”

Breaking habits

There are several factors that can affect a child’s ability to learn to swim. Previous water
interaction and emotions getting the best of parents are two of the top hindrances.

“If they had a bad water experience either in the bath or pool, this will make them scared
of water,” Jason explains.

“Kids can sense if their parents are afraid of the water. Most of the time children will cry when they get their faces wet and parents can sometimes be overprotective.

“As a teacher you need to adjust quickly and try to gain the trust of both parent and baby so they will feel safe. Getting them to trust you will make them comfortable and can speed up their learning.”

Teaching teens

While learning at a young age may be easier, it’s never too late. It can be more challenging for teens as previous experiences can make them more cautious and bad swimming habits can hinder learning. Jason also notes that attitude, over-confidence and giving up can also slow down the process.

But, Jason notes that while it may take time to alter fear and bad habits, they can be corrected and everybody, irrespective of age, can enjoy the many benefits of swimming, starting you on a path to a healthier lifestyle while staying safe and having fun.

Tips to keep children safe in the water

  • Be vigilant – Parents should always keep an eye on their kids and know where they are in the pool.
  • Know where to get help – Take note of lifeguard posts so you know where to go in case of emergency, and locate rescue equipment including first aid kits, ring buoys, rescue boards and ropes.
  • Impart safety tips – Teach kids basic rules such as no running, pushing and dunking. Take time to read safety pointers before getting into the water. Remind children to swim only in supervised and approved areas.

Need to know

WORDS Ferdinand Godinez
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