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Preventing and Overcoming Apprehension of Water

by 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:

Your Apprehension

“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.

Early Experiences

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.

Dad and baby in the water

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.

SwimWays Sea Squirts Swim Assist Vest

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 - Water Safety Expert

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

‘National Learn to Swim Day’ is Saturday, May 18, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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
National Learn to Swim DayVIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – () – 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,SwimWays Power Swimr 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.

Families can learn more about National Learn to Swim Day and Swim Steps by visiting www.SwimWays.com and www.TeachMeToSwim.com.

# # #

About Swimways Corp.

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.

Contacts

Litzky Public Relations
Jessica Rusack | 201-222-9118 | jrusack@litzkypr.com
or
Gillian Small | 201-222-9118 | gsmall@litzkypr.com

Water Safety Tips from Our Expert

by Mario Vittone

As summer approaches, neighbors are getting their backyard pools and spas in shape for another season of fun. It can be a lot of work and just like every year, I get lots of questions from new parents asking me about water safety. Let’s start off this swim season right with a review of what it means to be safe around the water with your kids. Here are some of the most common questions I get along with my answers:

1. What are the number one things to keep in mind when it comes to swim safety for kids?

This first one is easy: supervision! Kids should never be in a pool, spa, lake, or any body of water without constant adult supervision; not just there with them, but focused on the children exclusively. Those who are watching the water cannot be engaged in anything else. Parents have to understand what drowning looks like and never assume that they will hear trouble; they will have to watch for it.

Many organizations, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, have developed Water Watcher cards for the responsible adult to wear at pool parties and other swimming activities so other adults know that they are busy and not to be distracted. I think they are a great idea.

Make a habit out of always assigning a responsible young adult or adult as a full time water watcher and remember that some children will need closer supervision than others.

SwimWays Swim Steps

2. How should a parent’s attitude about swim safety change as a child grows older? Are there different rules for different age groups?

Attitudes can shift as a child’s abilities grow, but ability isn’t always linked to age. There aren’t different rules concerning safety for different ages. Non-swimming children of any age should be closely supervised when in the water. “Touch-supervision” is a term used to describe the care needed for those with limited swimming ability. An adult should be within arm’s reach at all times when a child who is learning to swim is in the water.

As a child’s ability and confidence in the water grows, so can your distance from them while watching them swim and play. But there will never be a time when you should feel so confident that you walk away and leave them unsupervised.

3. If a child can’t swim, can a parent still bring him or her to the pool with friends or siblings? How can we keep that child safe?

The water can be a fun place for everyone. Parents whose children haven’t yet learned to swim shouldn’t be afraid to take them to well maintained and supervised pools. New swimmers can stay in the shallow end within touch supervision of an adult or even venture into deeper water using approved flotation devices like the SwimWays Sea Squirts Life Jacket. They are my absolute favorite product on the market for less-than-confident swimmers.

Of course, the answers to keeping non-swimmers kids safe in the water is as varied as kids themselves. Maybe they only feel comfortable being in the water with Mom or Dad right there with them. If so – get in there with them and work with them to feel comfortable. There are other products in the Swim Steps line that can help you both feel comfortable as you introduce them to the water. Remember that every minute in the water shouldn’t be a swim lesson, but they can learn when just having fun.

Whether your child is a confident swimmer or a beginner – being close by, watching, and participating with them as they are in the water is the ultimate safety net.

4. What are some of the best ways to teach our kids about swim safety without scaring them or making them afraid to swim?

This is another question I get a lot and for years it used to be difficult to answer. Any parent with more than one child knows how different their personalities can be and how you talk to them about anything can be specific to the child. But for the past year and a half, I’ve been privileged to work with an organization that has developed what I think is the best way to get the message of water safety across to young children.

joshtheotter.org

My good friend, Blake Collingsworth, wrote a children’s book entitled Josh the Baby Otter. The book helps parents provide some context for small children when discussing water safety and helps convey three very simple yet powerful messages for kids: To never go near water without an adult; to first learn to float and/or swim before going in water; and to always swim with a buddy.

I’ve personally watched as children learned these basic safety rules about the water and then looked forward to becoming just like Josh and “learn to float!”

SwimWays is a proud supporter of the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation because they believe, as I do, that teaching children early about water safety is a necessary first step in the learn-to-swim process.

5. If you see a child who looks like they are in trouble in the water, what steps should you take to help them?

Without trying to condense years of rescue training into a single paragraph, I’ll start of by saying that it depends, though you should never let anything get in the way of common sense. Understand that a child in trouble in the water is having trouble maintaining their airway. Getting them out of the water is always the first step. If you are within arm’s reach (like you should be in many cases) then simply reaching over and picking them up has got step one out of the way.

You’ll often hear a rule that says “reach then throw, don’t go” that advocates reaching from the pool edge with your body or a pole, and if that doesn’t work to throw flotation or a line and pull the child to safety. The “Don’t go” part is a warning that worries about untrained rescuers needing rescue themselves.

That can be a problem, but again don’t forget common sense. If you’re not a trained lifeguard, and you see a toddler struggling in three feet of water just out of your reach, don’t waste any time trying to throw a life ring at the two year old; get in there and pick them up!

It’s a new season for fun in the water and learning to swim, but first things first; stay safe out there.

We’ve got some great things planned for this summer and we’ll be getting advice from some of my friends in the swim training industry and from parents like yourself over the coming weeks and months, so check back often. And keep those questions coming!

Mario

Mario Vittone - Water Safety ExpertMario 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

Pool Toys for Water Confidence

by Mario Vittone

If you’ve been paying attention to my blog posts you know that I am a big fan of “play” and “fun” in the water. 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.

I may have learned proper swim mechanics on the swim team, but my real confidence in the water came from hours simply at play with my family and friends. Exploring underwater with my goggles or dive mask conditioned my breath-holding ability. Playing games like Water Polo and “Underwater Basketball” built my skills with treading water. And I remember how much fun I had diving after pennies and how that time was as valuable to my comfort in water above my head as any lap my coaches made me swim. The play was just as important as the practice.

Parents should encourage structured and unstructured supervised play as an integral part of the learn-to-swim process for their children. But as fond a memory as diving for pennies is for me, you really don’t want your kids taking loose coins into the pool. In this article I have matched up some great SwimWays pool toys with ideas for games that will help your child build confidence in the water without them even knowing it.

Now, on to the toys!

Disney and Marvel Swimming Goggles

Spider-Man Swim GogglesSwimming goggles are an excellent device for encouraging a swimmer to put their face in the water. Kids are natural explorers and with goggles, the ability to see clearly above and below the surface will take advantage of their curiosity while protecting their eyes from irritation and the unintended pokes that can happen anytime kids play.

Just about every game and toy highlighted in this article is made more fun by the use of properly fitted swim goggles, but a good set of goggles alone will help your child gain confidence having their face in the water and can improve breath control.

Underwater Dive Toys

Zoom RaySwimming underwater is a life skill that often takes a back seat to traditional swimming like freestyle and other surface strokes. Being good at surface swimming is vital, but being fast and efficient on the surface won’t help if later in life they need to duck under a wave at the beach, or jump from a high dive at a larger pool and find themselves ten feet underwater.

Being confident in the water means being confident under the water too. Other dive toys like the Toypedo or the Zoom Ray make for great underwater fun; kids will even enjoy swimming to retrieve these toys for another round of play.

Rainbow Reef

I want one of everything in the Rainbow Reef line. Watch this video below and tell me you don’t want one of those sharks. I don’t think you can do it. Okay well, at least one of those swimming fish? I must be getting old, though, because my first thought was, “You kids today don’t know how good you’ve got it! Why when I was your age, we used coins for pool toys!”

http://youtu.be/cwro0yiCxtg

But seriously, cool toys mean more reasons to get in the water and have fun and that can and will transform young swimmers into better young swimmers. Anything that makes them move in the water will help them get better at moving in the water and help them develop breath-control and balance, too.

Spring Float Kid’s Boat

Spring Float Kid's BoatThat’s right: I’m suggesting a pool float as a water-confidence-building pool toy. No, I’m not suggesting that lying around builds water confidence, but put one of these things in the water with two or more kids and see what happens. Eventually, all kids will break into the aquatic version of “King of The Hill,” turning these pool floats into serious deep water toys.

Of course, you should encourage them to “play nice” and can organize the fun into an aquatic musical chairs round. Two Spring Float Kid’s Boats, three kids, and you’ve got yourself a game.

Poolside Volleyball

Poolside VolleyballYou wouldn’t immediately think that a game like Poolside Volleyball played while standing on the bottom builds in-water skill, but it does. Jumping and reaching for the save, kids are sometimes forced to submerge at odd angles while their hands are busy. There is no nose-pinching or face-covering going on and kids develop tolerance for the occasional discomfort of water up the nose or submerging with less than a full breath. It may seem silly and definitely this game is more about volleyball than anything else, but that’s the point. While playing a game, kids develop secondary skills that help them in other areas and that makes them more confident and safer swimmers.

So far, everything I’ve mentioned is for more advanced junior swimmers and teens (and me with that whole shark thing), but even the youngest can gain confidence and comfort in the water through the use of toys and games.

Gobble Gobble Guppies

Gobble Gobble GuppiesI promise, I’m not suggesting the Gobble Gobble Guppies pool toy just because of the shark (though he is pretty cool), but because it’s a great toy to get young swimmers to move through the water, even if they still need to stay in the shallow end where they can touch bottom. Space the guppies out and watch as your kids chase them through the water. Have them alternate holding the shark in either hand with each round and the fun of play becomes a serious tool for building balance, hand-eye coordination, and general ease in the water.

Closing Thoughts

Supervised toys and games are an important part of any child’s development as a confident and safer swimmer. Remember that the next time you’re in the store and they drag you into pool toy aisle and say, “Please!” Whatever they want that will get them playing in the water will do good that they aren’t even aware of. Just make sure you remind them how lucky they are — “Why, when I was a kid, we had to play with pennies!”

From the editor: This article was published on our main website last year. We’re sharing this with you again as pool season is approaching, and we thought you might like to start thinking about toys that can help increase water confidence in your child!

Mario Vittone - Water Safety Expert

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