Learning to Swim … It’s Important!
Many years ago, as a little girl growing up in Colorado, my mom enrolled me in swimming lessons at our local municipal pool. I remember walking reluctantly into the steamy pool area one day and seeking out my swim instructor.
I found him standing in the shallow end of the pool. I hesitantly approached the edge, gingerly reaching out my hand to his outstretched one. Instead of taking my hand and carefully guiding me into the water, he grabbed me with both of his hairy arms, tossing me high up in the air and launching me into a deeper section of the pool, landing me with a huge splash.
Shocked, horrified, sputtering and spewing, I popped up and through my veil of wet hair glared at him and decided then and there that I hated swimming lessons. That might have been my last one, in fact. Thankfully, for most kids — including my own — swimming lessons do not have to be so traumatic and don’t necessarily need to elicit such unexpected action on the part of the instructor. Here along the Gulf Coast, there’s a lot of water surrounding us on all sides,whether it’s at the beach, in a river or pond, or in a backyard pool. For that reason, it is imperative that our kids take some form of swimming lesson at some point in their lives.
This sage advice comes from Christine Corban O’Bannon, head coach for the Gulfport Yacht Club Swim Team and American Red Cross-certified swimming instructor with more than 25 years of experience teaching young (and old) people to swim.
Swimming lessons, says O’Bannon, should “focus on survival, basic water safety, and stroke introduction, instruction and improvement.” In addition, she says, we as adults and parents “must make sure we provide each [child] the opportunity to learn this important life skill.” We can all agree on that, right? But, what happens if your child is actually afraid to even get into the water? There are often fears associated with learning how to swim, and not all of those fears are related to scary, hairy swim teachers.
“Children have many fears in or near the water,” says O’Bannon. “Some are afraid of entering the water at all. They may think they are going straight to the bottom.”
Some children are afraid of the deep end of the pool, continues O’Bannon, even though the water level of the shallow end is over their heads. Some are afraid to float on their backs or to try different swimming positions. Some are afraid of going under the water or putting their faces in the water, even to blow bubbles.
“Some will cling or hold on to you for dear life,” O’Bannon said. Mine used to dig their little fingernails into the back of my arms, begging me not to let go of them in the water. My youngest even resorted to wrapping her legs around me like a boa constrictor to keep me from releasing her. This is unsettling for parents and makes us question whether forcing the lesson onto our child really is the best decision. Regardless, as hard as it may seem not to give in to your child’s fears or cries, you must “stay focused on your goal: optimal swimming abilities,” encourages O’Bannon. According to Charles F. Smith, supervisor and coordinator of the aquatics program at The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Biloxi, one of the greatest fears a young swimmer experiences is the “fear of a lack of control.” One way to combat this anxiety is for the parent to remain patient and calm.
“If the child sees the parent getting frustrated or losing patience,” Smith said, “then that could lead to a heightened fear.”
O’Bannon suggests that parents begin the water adjustment at a young age. She suggests during bath time to pour water on the child’s head and teach them how to blow bubbles in the water.
“Let them experience getting water in their faces and around their eyes, nose, and mouth,” O’Bannon said.
Each child learns differently, and this includes swimming.
“If you have a child in a group setting who is more shy or having more difficulty with a specific task, then that child may have more difficulty with mastering skills and may require more oneon-one,” O’Bannon explained.
Likewise, she said, some children thrive on peer pressure and respond better to the competitive aspect of swimming by wanting to “out-do their peers.” Smith added that group settings can be beneficial for some children as it allows them to see their peers succeeding, which “makes them want to try it as well.”
However small a skill may seem — such as floating or breathing — each one is a building block for the child to become a strong swimmer … and perhaps even a survivor.
“The more they practice these skills, the more comfortable they will become in the water,” said O’Bannon. “And as their swimming skills are mastered at different levels, so will their confidence in themselves. Their fear will subside, their water safety awareness will improve, and they will become stronger swimmers.”
Tracy D. DeStazio is a freelance writer and editor living in Biloxi. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 23 years and they have three children. While her memories of childhood swimming lessons may have been tarnished that day when tossed into the pool, she still loves to swim and is (mostly) unafraid of the deep end.