There are many parents that want their children to quickly learn how to swim and become water safe, a status where children are competent and comfortable enough in the water that they are able to handle most situations and not be minimally at risk.
Parents often sign their kids up for swim lessonsand ask, ‘how soon before my child is going to be safe in the water.’ That is such a broad question and when asked what do they specifically mean when they say ‘safe in the water’, the reply usually falls along one of two lines. 1)’I would like to be able to not have to be in the water with my child when they are playing in the pool’, or 2) ‘I would like to not have to worry about my child if he or she were to accidentally fall into the water.’
‘I want to not be in the water with my child’
If you are a parent of a young child, you should not be so quick to decide to be hands off in your children’s early water experiences. Sharing water activities with your young child is an excellent parent/child bonding experience that is rewarding to all participants.
Furthermore these interactions will create positive experiences and memories for your child, creating a positive and receptive attitude within the child for water safety and swimming instruction.
Another very important fact to consider is that accidents can happen very quickly in the water with inexperienced or scared children. Keeping your young child close to you while they are in the water minimizes these risks. A child should be at least five years old with three seasons of swim instruction before they can be separate from you while they are in the water, and even in these situations you must be sure there is a trained adult to supervise him or her.
‘I want to know my chlld will take care of himself if he falls into the water’
The second line of thought, ‘what if my child were to slip into a swimming pool’, is what most parents are concerned with when it comes to their children’s competence in water safety. Swimming pools are very common in many homes and many home pools do not have security gates or pool covers, so it is a legitimate concern for parents to want their children to be comfortable with water safety skills as soon as possible.
A child that is not comfortable in the water can panic which leads to a higher probability of drowning. To assume that a young child with only a few weeks of swim lessons can develop the comfort to instinctually understand how to react in an unexpected water situation is a very dangerous presumption. To be conservative, it should be assumed that a child is not water safe until he or she is at least seven years old with at least five seasons of swimming lessons.
A child needs to be physically, mentally and emotionally developed enough to handle circumstances that may shock her or him when caught off guard. An older child with several years of experience around pools will most likely not panic and intuition stemming from time and experience will prevail allow the child to calmly remove him or herself from the hazardous situation.
Don’t assume your child is water safe just because he can swim after a few lessons
My advice unquestionably is NOT to rush your child into an assumed water safe status. At the swim school that I was associated with in Los Angeles, KidSwim, it was understood that for a child to be water safe meant more than just knowing how to swim. To be water safe means a child is comfortable and capable while in the water. Part of the teachings at Kidswim involved spending time playing with the kids in the water, to get them relaxed and feeling familiar with the water environment. Being water safe is a big responsibility that your child will ultimately accept on their own at their own pace of learning and maturing. For the time being, it’s the job of a parent to be the child’s lifeguard until finally they are able to calmly and maturely manage themselves in a water environment.
Lifeguards often state ‘a good lifeguard makes a good save, a great lifeguard doesn’t have to.’ An excellent lifeguard should be able to see a possibly unsafe scenario BEFORE it happens allowing them to intercede well before it becomes an actual save.
Lessening the danger to our children in and around water needs to be a top concern for all mothers and fathers. Just like well-seasoned lifeguards, parents must take it upon themselves to understand potential risk to kids before it actually presents itself. With regard to young kids playing in water with no adult close by, there’s always the potential for real danger. As attentive moms and dads of young and vulnerable children, we must realize this.
For a child to have the capacity to handle him or herself in the water environment, he or she requires time to really learn and be relaxed within the environment. For children to progress and develop water safety behaviors, it will require an enormous commitment of time and vigilance from us as parents. With persistence and constant development of water capabilities, in addition to fun and games to inspire them to take pleasure in water activities, your child will delight in swimming and consequently end up water safe.
Andrew Guard is an article author that resides in the Los Angeles area where he is active in water sports and children’s health and fitness development. He continues to be involved with KidSwim, a private swim school in the Southern California region that specializes in a developmental approach to swim education. To find out more about developmental based swim education, visit kidswim.org.