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Help Your Child Love To Swim

When my daughter, Leah, was 6, I signed her up for a month’s worth of daily swim lessons because, well, it worked for another mom’s kids.

I didn’t account for my daughter’s persistent (read: stubborn) temperament or her refusal to get into the pool. When she did get in, Leah steadfastly refused to dunk. A year later she finally dunked in a hotel pool during a vacation. The key? It was her own idea. 

Follow these tips for developing water confidence in even the most reluctant youngsters and chances are you’ll avoid poolside battles.

Initial Steps

Go to the pool often. It is the single biggest factor for helping kids love water, says swim club manager Ken Erickson. Regular visits make water normal. Sign up for parent/baby classes or take your toddler to your local pool to play.

Swimming Matters

More than half of U.S. children, including 70% of African American and 60% of Hispanic kids, cannot swim, according to USA Swimming. “Children from non-swimming households are eight times more likely to be at risk of drowning,” says the organization.

Keep it fun. Young children progress quicker when parents interact with them in the pool, so make water play a family experience. A warm pool, 85 degrees or more, can help kids relax.

Confront your own fear. If you’re a reluctant swimmer, you may convey fear of water to your kids. Consider taking lessons so you can comfortably join them in the pool.

Don’t pressure kids. Praise their baby steps and trust they will progress when ready. If your child is fearful or timid, try a swimsuit with a built-in floatationdevice.

Once your child is confident with pool play, he’s ready to try lessons.

Investigate Options

Look for lessons with a high ratio of instructors to students and with instructors skilled at working with kids.

Check out the style of instruction. Methods differ. Interaction should be positive and fun and should not force skills such as dunking or using the diving board. Ask how instructors engage reluctant swimmers and if goggles are allowed — for some kids, goggles can make a big difference for going underwater.

At The Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ, children learn floating and survival skills long before they learn swimming strokes. This technique increases their confidence and gives them important knowledge, says Katz JCC marketingdirector Deborah Orel.

In addition to other options, nearly all local YMCA branches offer swimming lessons. The Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, PA incorporates swimming for every student into its preschool program.

The Lessons Begin

When lessons are about to begin, prepare your child by describing what to expect. Check the pool website, talk with teachers in advance or observe a class.

Allow your child to interact with the instructor. Don’t hover, but don’t step away unnecessarily. It’s normal for kids to repeat lessons at the same level multiple times and then suddenly leap ahead.

Try private lessons if your child doesn’t progress in a group setting. Some kids experience performance anxiety in a group. For age 6 and younger, take time off between sessions to avoid burnout. Most importantly, keep it fun.           

Joanna Nesbit is a freelance writer.

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