This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.
I was that parent who had her child in swimming lessons at three months old. Obviously I knew she wasn’t actually going to learn how to swim as a newborn but I felt very strongly about my child being comfortable in the water and learning to swim as early as possible. It’s an essential life skill, I said, It should be a high priority for every parent, I preached.
My daughter will be five in a few months and we recently went to a birthday party at a pool where she spent the whole time sitting on the sidelines because she’s afraid of the water. After an enthusiastic start, we quickly fizzled out on the lessons and now we have two kids who won’t go in the water.
The pool party was my wake-up call. This summer I will be signing my daughter up for the free swimming lessons the HRM offers at their outdoor beaches and pools. Rhonda Dea is the Coordinator of Aquatic and Leisure Services with the Halifax Regional Municipality and she agrees that every child should take swimming lessons, but says parents need to know that the goal at a young age isn’t to nail that butterfly stroke.
“We want a child to be able to swim themselves to safety, first and foremost. They can achieve that with the basic skills,” she says. ”Water safety is something all children should be taught.”
Besides preventing drowning, swimming lessons also teach children respect for their classmates and instructors, how to work as a group, listen well and how to safely respond to a variety of water situations.
There are also some things parents can do at home to help their child become more comfortable in the water such as having them face the stream of water in the shower to get used to water on their face, which is something Dea says many children are afraid of.
A parent’s attitude while playing in the water with their children can also impact a child’s anxiety around swimming.
“If a parent has their child at a beach or a lake, or even a public pool, and their child slips under for a second it is important that the parent doesn’t react in a panicked way,” she explains. “The child reacts to the parent’s panic. It is great to see a parent pick the child up quickly, make sure they are okay and continue on.”
Dea recommends children start swimming lessons by three years old. By that age most children are independent and able to follow directions. Also, they are in non-parented classes by then which Dea says can be an advantage as many children often listen better when their parents are not with them.
I’m looking forward to watching my daughter learn how to have fun safely in the water this summer from the comfort of my beach towel and, let’s be honest, the fact that I get to spend her swimming lessons making sand castles with my toddler isn’t a bad deal for me either.