Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Toddler swim classes and the management of fear

A Bear is approaching 18 months and she's well into swimming lessons. They happen on daddy day, so I'm also learning; about fear, complex project management, and the joys of walking home in midwinter wearing wet boardies under trackie pants and thongs.

If this sounds a bit ambitious and wanky like those programs for teaching your toddler orchestral composition, or rocket science, or 1st year university subjects, then let me explain. She's not actually learning the butterfly; the classes are designed to make little tots comfy in the water and teach them some very basic survival skills- don't breathe underwater, get in backwards, get out quickly if you fall in.

She's doing well. Bear is proving to be a derring-do risk-taker, and throws herself into most challenges with enthusiasm. Good and bad there obviously. Most of the other kids are older, and she handles being splashed or pulled along underwater better than many of her peers.

But each class sees her go under at some point, unplanned. It's just part of playing in the pool, you don't stop watching- closely- ever. She trips and goes under, my heart stops, I explode out of the water in her direction (even if, as in most cases, she's about 2 feet away) and haul her out and up into the air with both hands. She just blinks and blows the water away from her mouth. I put her down slowly and feel my heartrate zip up to 200 then back down again over the next 10 seconds or so.

Bear on the other hand is only fazed when the big dufous kid, sweet as he is, who should be in a higher class but isn't up to it yet, unintentionally thumps her into the water. It's happened twice, I'm getting antsy.

Late at night as I try to sleep I replay the events over and over. Staying sane (if I'm that, we could argue it) involves staving off the candid observation that at all times my reaction is the only thing preventing the unthinkable. That despite the supportive setting, the lifeguards, the specialist infant teachers, myself and the other parents, this is water, and it takes lives. Very quickly.

So I want her to learn, and be confident.

I will never forget the green of the swirling water as I fell into the crocodile-infested Morehead River in Papua as a 3 year old. The moments where I just hovered there, under the water, clueless, thinking 'I'm about to drown' until the boom and the hand grabbing my hair and the relaxation of knowing it's all ok, mum got me before the denizens of the depths.

Parenting- fear and fun wrapped up like a blindfolded schuss down Argentiere.


jo said...

Hi, your post left me a wee bit concerned for your Bear's confidence around water, or rather it being impeded somewhat by her over anxious papa!

You would of course realise that children don't have the motor coordination or strength to swim themselves properly until at least 4/5 years old?

Some can do it a little younger depending on their shape and strength etc. But generally it doesn’t matter how many swim classes they attend as babies/toddlers.

As you posted, these classes are just introducing her to water, but obviously if she was un-supervised she would be just as much at risk as a toddler who hadn't attended any water classes.

I hope parents who attend these classes are aware of this.

Most of the toddlers/children who drown in backyard swimming pools have spent way more time around water than children who don't have pools, this being the obvious comparison to draw.

I just googled and found this first on the list:

The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that:

Swimming programs for infants and toddlers less than four years of age should not be promoted as being an effective drowning prevention strategy.

Children less than four years of age do not have the developmental ability to master water survival skills and swim independently. Aquatic activities and swimming programs for these children should focus on building confidence and educating parents regarding water safety.


It's all about constant supervision around water and being 'within touch' range, but it's also about being relaxed while doing the supervising!! It should be a fun time for both of you "playing" in the pool - cool!

Little Bear going under the water and copping a mouthful isn't so bad - esp. if Dad is there smiling and saying see... “ya gotta watch out” or "did you hold your breath"? etc..with a big smile and cuddle.

Wrenching her from the water with a omigodyoucouldhavedied expression isn’t the way to impart safety & confidence etc.

You also shouldn’t be losing any sleep because you are ALWAYS going to be there with her ‘within touch’ and when she graduates to lessons you’ll be there watching her as well. And then cheering at the school carnival when she in the 50 metres freestyle.

And lastly, just take the boardies off and wrap them in the towel etc. before you put the trackie-dacks on! No-one wears their wet cossies home unless it’s summertime.

All the very best from someone who grew up at the beach and has taught kids and adults to swim over the years. (Not for a very long time though.)

My ten-year old daughter (swin school trained) now goes “out the back” that is hundreds of metres from the shore past the breakers on a board with her Nippers group etc. I’m on the sand pretending that I’m still supervising.

jo said...

Having posted the above earlier, I have now remembered all the fun I had with my own daughter in those early years before the proper swimming lessons.


Never having to worry about heads going under, they can splash and kick and "swim" along with you. Of course, you are still in "in touch" mode the whole time, but a ton more fun and a ton of exercise when they can float independently.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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