Teaching Children Water Safety

We’ve still got a bit of June gloom here in San Diego, but that hasn’t stopped T from getting some swim time. Now that he’s five, he’s a tad more competent in the pool, but my fear of the worst case scenario still hasn’t faded.

Children's Water Safety

If there were a contest for Best Belly Flops by a Five-Year-Old, T would win!

Like a Fish to Water

Isn’t it funny how we introduce our children to water? It all starts with bath time. Some babies love it, some don’t. T happened to love it (and still does). He was a water baby from the very start. We’d lay him in the little hammock (I think every infant tub has one), and just watch, grinning like fools at the pure joy that would ensue. If he was fussy prior to being put in the water, all the fussiness would melt away with the waves. He’d get really quiet and relaxed, and his eyes would take on this serene, faraway look. “Calgon, take me away…”

We’d encourage bath time, and praise him in high-pitched voices to show our pleasure at his lack of fear: “WHO’S a little fishy? Is BABY a little fishy? Ohhh, I think SO! Baby LOVES being a little fishy! Swim, fishy, SWIM!”

And then there was the Mommy & Me swim class, which T adored. We’d sing songs, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round….” Play retrieval games with colorful, floating toys. Squeal our approval at our babies’ roly poly kicking legs. Blow gently in their faces, then dunk them in the water, and if they came up smiling (but especially if they didn’t), shower them with hugs and kisses!

It should have come as no surprise, then, that when T became MOBILE, he was magnetically drawn to any body of water. At the beach, he’d furiously pump his dimpled little hands and knees, and crawl with wild abandon straight into the ocean. When the waves would crest over his head, causing him to tumble over, he’d choke and sputter, but he’d quickly regain his breath and composure, and go right back in.

This worried me greatly. I always thought he lacked a healthy fear of the water. When I was young, I didn’t learn to swim until I was about eight years old. And even then, I just wasn’t very comfortable in the water. Once, at a high school pool party, someone pushed me in playfully, and for a few frantic seconds under water, I thrashed around, terrified that this was It, that I’d drown for sure. Finally, my best friend yanked me up by the elbow and said, exasperated, “Sophia. Stand up. It’s only three feet deep.” It was then I had to come to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t a water person.

But that was me. This is T. He’s mesmerized by the ocean, the pool, a pond with ducks, walking on a dock, and even just watering the garden with a hose.

Suddenly, I wasn’t encouraging him around water anymore. I was telling him to AVOID it. “Not too close! Careful or you’ll fall in!” I found myself hovering over him whenever he was close to a pool or at the beach. Why? Because he sure didn’t act like he was going to shy away from the deep end or a big wave. The Mommy & Me swim classes did NOT teach him how to swim; they only taught him to be even more brazen around water.

His grandma has a pool in her backyard that’s not fenced. This, coupled with T’s bold confidence around the water, prompted me to enroll him in swim classes. After several months of these lessons, however, he was still no closer to being SAFE around the water. I’d tell the instructors time and time again that I couldn’t care less about his form or stroke technique, that I just wanted him to be able to SAVE HIMSELF in case he ever fell into the pool. My words fell on deaf ears. Most kids’ swim classes do not focus on water safety, or as my brother-in-law puts it, “drown-proofing your child.”

Pool Safety for Kids

That’s when I learned about Infant Swim Resource. This organization is all about teaching children water safety. And they start really early, with teeny babies, teaching them how to roll onto their backs to catch their breath, and float to the side of the pool. I don’t know the exact method, but this sounded like my type of class. The problem is, T seems a little old for it now, and he’s JUST learned to swim a few feet across the water. Yes, it does make my heart swell with pride to see him make progress (“Mommy! I actually MOVED today!”) but it doesn’t do much to ease my water paranoia.

What if he falls in with all his clothes and shoes on, and he’s too heavy to swim to the side? What if he panics and forgets what little he knows about “swimming”? What if no one gets to him in time? What if that person doesn’t know CPR? My imagination goes into overdrive. I can’t help but think of that terrible statistic―drowning is the second leading cause of death in children nationwide (next to auto accidents).

I know how to increase water safety. Put a fence around the pool. Provide undistracted adult supervision. Know CPR. Learn how to swim. These are all no-brainers, but it doesn’t mean that I and all of T’s caregivers have these bases covered. Because we don’t. I think we’re all just hoping that he learns to swim very quickly (by the end of the summer?) and that we’ll never have to worry about it. (Excuse me while I extract my head from the sand.)

Anyway, I’m currently looking into the drown-proofing class (sorry, I realize this is an indelicate term, but isn’t it also so utterly accurate?) for T. He may be a tad old (I think they teach kids up to age six), but so what? It’s crucial to me that he learns these “self-rescue” skills, even at the ripe old age of five. And with Baby #2, I think we’ll start early. Some parents might think the drown-proofing method has the potential to be traumatizing. I might tend to agree. But the instructors maintain that they are very gentle with the kids and always keep the child’s emotional state in mind. And, if I really think about our options, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Are you comfortable having your kids in the water? How does your family have fun splashing around while also teaching water safety?

KidZui Mom

Sophia savors all the joys (and challenges!) of motherhood with her husband C, son T, and soon-to-be baby girl in San Diego. Read more of her (mis)adventures in mothering at MamaSayMamaSo.

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