Water safety expert, Mario Vittone, has written a special feature article for our main website called Pool Toys for Water Confidence. Did you know that the best way to build confidence in the water is through play? In his article Mario explains how water fun helps children develop their swimming ability and build water confidence, he also gives some pointers on what pool toys to use to get started.
“Though I grew up on summer swim teams and went to more than my fair share of swim practices, I believe a great deal of my confidence and ability in the water was developed not when I was “learning” to swim – but rather when I was just playing in the water. I was learning how to be a better swimmer and didn’t even know it was happening.” - Mario Vittone
To become a swimmer your child has to first want to be in the water. Some children develop apprehension towards swimming that can stop their progress. To overcome this apprehension of water, you have to understand why it may be there in the first place, and then work to develop trust with your child where water is involved.
Parents should know that outright fear of water (aquaphobia) – characterized by screaming, panic, and avoidance of all contact with water including baths – is a situation that requires professional help. But general unease around the pool is something that parents can address.
Most children are naturally drawn to water, but there are several ways that apprehension can creep in. A child who is uneasy around water usually has a reason. Here are some examples of situations that make early swimmers not want to even try:
“If mom is afraid of the water, maybe I should be, too!” Children pick up on your apprehension of water first. If you aren’t a good swimmer and it doesn’t look like you are having fun, it’s going to be hard to convince your child that they should get in there with you. Non-swimming parents need to take lessons before trying to teach their children how to swim. I’m not suggesting that you have to become a fully qualified swim instructor (though that couldn’t hurt), but at least get to a place where you are comfortable and a strong swimmer before being responsible for your child’s introduction to the water.
If an adult ever told a child, “I won’t let go,” and then let go of them in the water, that child will find it harder to be trusting in the pool the next time. Early childhood experiences in the pool should be fun and easy. Your toddler doesn’t need to swim on their own or learn to float on their first (or even tenth) day in the pool. What they need is to feel secure, to have fun, and to learn to enjoy the water.
Make sure these early exposures are about fun and play and always be right there to help them and support them if they need it.
Baby Steps for the Babies
If your child doesn’t want you to take them out into the pool, don’t force them! Dragging them out against their will might not be the best idea. Instead, let them simply sit on the edge, or on a shallow step and play. Stay close and make the experience easy and fun.
Next, you can play games with the water. Splash and play with the water yourself first, and see if your child will mimic your behavior; splash water on your arms, and then your shoulders, and eventually on your face and head. You can use a plastic cup to pour the water on your head, showing your child that it can be fun.
As they get more comfortable, step things up and encourage them to splash you or have them pour the water on you and then themselves. These gentle and unforced interactions with you can build their trust and increase their comfort with you in the pool. Remember, there is no hurry and no need to pressure the child to go further. Just keep having fun and making the water about play, and slowly the apprehension should fade.
Stay Close and Be Supportive
Remaining within arm’s reach of your child (touch supervision) is vital for safety and also critical for trust. This is where the use of flotation devices like the Sea Squirts Swim Assist Vest can really help. They can make your child feel more at ease and they are fun for kids to wear. Remember, you want the water to be about fun for your child, and the right support can help the apprehensive swimmer venture with you out into the water.
Another way you can expose your child to the world beyond the edge of the pool is to pull them through the water on a small raft or even a SwimWays Kickboard. Have them hold on as you pull them through the pool and let them enjoy the ride! If you said you wouldn’t let go, then don’t let go. Just be there with them and make the experience positive.
It Doesn’t Have to Happen Today
Remember, there is no rush, all progress towards confidence is good, and no step is too small. Each push forward is gentle and the things they overcame earlier should be reinforced. Don’t make the work an all-day affair; end each day’s lesson on a positive note and talk about how much fun they will have the next time they swim. Tell them, “Tomorrow you can go even farther!”
A child’s apprehension around water can definitely slow progress when learning to swim, but it can be overcome with a gentle and unforced introduction to all the fun that can be had in the pool. You don’t need to be overly concerned or put pressure on them. Just develop their trust as you help them experience water in a way that is fun and makes them look forward to trying again tomorrow.
Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation. Mario’s Blog | Facebook Page
Swimways Kicks off Summer Season with ‘National Learn to Swim Day’ on Saturday, May 18, 2013
Second Annual Campaign Will Raise Awareness about the Importance of Learning to Swim Through Free, Online Materials and a Partnership with Prominent Water Safety Expert
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – (BUSINESS WIRE) – Swimways Corp., a leader in the recreational water products marketplace and creator of the SwimWays® Swim Steps™ program that helps kids learn to swim, announced today the campaign for its second annual ‘National Learn to Swim Day,’ taking place on Saturday, May 18, 2013. Dedicated to educating parents and children about water safety, National Learn to Swim Day is an opportunity for families to learn about the importance and benefits of learning to swim before Memorial Day Weekend and the start of summer.On May 18, Swimways encourages families nationwide to participate in National Learn to Swim Day in their own way, whether that means enrolling children in local swimming instruction, hosting a group swimming lesson, or discovering the tools that Swimways provides families, including its Swim Steps learn-to-swim program and online water safety resources available on Swimways’ dedicated Swim Steps website www.TeachMeToSwim.com.“Swimming is an activity that people all over the world enjoy come summertime,” said Monica Jones, marketing director, Swimways. “In order to take part in all the fun the water can offer, children must be taught at an early age the fundamentals of swimming. This year we’re excited to partner with water safety expert Mario Vittone, to highlight the fundamentals of swimming and bring important swimming and water safety guidance to families, on behalf of the campaign.”
Mario Vittone, former Coast Guard helicopter rescue swimmer and water safety expert, will work closely with Swimways to provide free swimming safety resources to families. Vittone will give expert advice on topics and challenges related to teaching children to swim on www.TeachMeToSwim.com throughout the summer. In addition to the expert advice, families will be able to download an event guide, poster, coloring sheets and accomplishment certificates on the dedicated site.
“Whether a child is in a bathtub or at a backyard barbeque, whenever a body of water is present, the risk of drowning exists,” said Vittone. “It is important that adults are aware of the risk factors, and educate both themselves and their children about water safety not only on National Learn to Swim Day, but throughout the year as well.”
SwimWays’ Swim Steps program is a three-step program that features colorful swim-training aids specially designed to help parents teach kids to swim at home. The first step of the program is designed to introduce and comfortably support babies in the water; step two products give children the ability and freedom to explore as they develop confidence and learn to balance and paddle (two important pre-swimming skills); and step three products provide graduated support, helping kids to feel empowered and confident as they strengthen and perfect their swimming skills.
Based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Swimways is a privately owned leisure and recreational water products manufacturer whose mission is making free time more fun through innovation. It is a company rich in traditional values and respected for the quality and integrity of its products and services. With distribution in over 50,000 storefronts, it markets three unique brands: SwimWays®, Kelsyus® and Coop®. With offices in Hong Kong and the United States, the company’s diverse staff is passionate about developing fun and engaging products for kids. They are equally passionate about making sure kids are safe in and around the water and believe learning to swim is an important life skill. Swimways has been teaching kids to swim for over 40 years — longer than anyone else (except parents, of course!). In January 2007, Swimways began donating a portion of wholesale sales of the Swim Steps™ product line to Operation Smile. To date, the program has provided facial reconstructive surgeries to more than 4,500 kids around the world. For more information about Swimways, visit www.Swimways.com.