It’s Week 3 in our series of things we wish parents knew before the start of swim lessons. This time we want you to
Watch From A Safe Distance. That means the viewing area. If your child is really crying, preferably the back of the viewing area. You would think the sight of you would reassure him. Unfortunately the only thing he wants from you is the reassurance you are going to come and get him, pronto! Unless you are walking towards him with a towel, it’s best to play least in sight. Many an instructor has spent long, long minutes singing nursery rhymes, making funny faces and noises, to finally be rewarded by a small moment of silence or even a smile. Then, the child spots his parent and it’s back to square one. Square one is not a happy place. Please don’t make us go there.
Next week we finish up with Staying the Course.
So you’ve made the decision to stick with swim lessons for at least 3 lessons, but your work is not done yet. . .
Keep Calm and Carry On. Your attitude will set the tone for all the lessons to follow. Try to stay cheerful and moderately excited, as if you and your child were having an outing in the park. Your child is tuned into your feelings and looks to you for security. If you are nervous, tense, worried, unsure, you can bet she will be, too. If you treat the lesson as normal, safe and possibly fun, she’ll have an easier time believing it – it just may take a few lessons first.
Next week we’ll discuss Watching from a Safe Distance.
*** Interesting side note: The slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On” was first thought up by some bright bulb British civil engineer around 1939 or thereabouts. The British Ministry of Information released a couple of morale boosting propaganda posters during the early years of WWII, but was saving this one in the case of invasion by Germany. Luckily, it was never distributed for it’s original purpose.
Some kids never cry. You know the ones I mean. These are the babies that have never met a stranger. As toddlers they launch into new activities with enthusiasm. They sleep through the night at birth. If you’re lucky enough to have such a child as this, well, good for you. This article is for the rest of us, because when starting swim lessons a solid percentage of young kids are going to wail their heads off. It’s nothing personal, just biology, really. Babies and toddlers are hardwired to communicate by crying. What they are really saying is a salty version of, “No, I’d really rather not go with that stranger in the big bathtub.” We understand, kid, but we’d really rather you didn’t take a header into a pool and not be able to save yourself.
Our experienced ASC instructors have a few things we wish every parent bringing their child to swim lessons for the first time knew. Over the next four weeks we’re going to lay it out for you. Here’s the first thing you need to remember:
Stick It Out. Three lessons is the average amount of time it takes for the instructor to stop being a stranger and a bond to develop. For many kids, the first swim lesson is his first experience with being entrusted to a teacher without Mom or Dad present. A child may also protest for the first few lessons strictly on principle; an automatic, knee-jerk “NO” to anything new. If you haven’t experienced this colorful bit of toddler behavior yet, wait – you can count on it making periodic appearances at the family dinner table. (“It’s disgusting! I hate it!”; “What do you mean? You’ve never had it before!” But I digress. . .) In any event, give it three lessons. If you still don’t see any hope of your child ever enjoying himself, or at least quietly resigning himself to the inevitable, talk it over with your instructor and the office staff. There are other options you can explore in your quest for a watersmart kid.
Come back next week when we Keep Calm and Carry On.
The key to preventing childhood drowning is supervision; however studies have estimated that up to 90% of children who drown were reportedly supervised when the incident occurred. The best protection is an adult educated about and focused on water safety. Here are a few simple steps you can take to become water smart:
- Designate a Water Watcher. Many parents accompany their child to the pool, but read a book, play on their phone, or otherwise divert their attention away from the action in the water. Remember: children drown without a sound . . . in just a few seconds. Whenever and wherever children are swimming, designate a person who will focus solely on supervising the splashing. He or she should not leave the pool area (or lake, river, etc.) until a replacement arrives or the children leave the water. It can be a mind-numbing job, so Water Watchers should trade off fairly regularly.
- Always bring a phone to the pool, lake, river, etc. You won’t want to waste precious minutes racing to the house to call 911. Make sure the phone is placed in a high, dry place. DO NOT leave it in a pocket. Chances are you wouldn’t stop to remove the phone from your pocket before jumping into the water to rescue a child.
- Check the water first. If you notice that your child is no longer happily mashing Cheerios into the living room carpet where you left her, look where the water is first. Parents have searched for their toddler in the house for 15 minutes before finally looking in the pool. Early medical intervention is vital, so be sure to first scout out the pool, pond, fountain, toilet or any other place where an exploring child could run into water trouble.
- Learn CPR. Minutes make a huge difference when it comes to receiving emergency care. The CPR class is only a few hours and the cost is cheap compared to a child’s life. Contact the American Red Cross or your local hospital for information on upcoming classes in the area.
Childhood drowning is preventable. Educated adult supervision, together with swimming lessons and barriers, combine to wrap children in layers of protection.
Every instructor at Academy Swim Club wants their students to be capable of saving their own life in a water emergency. What we’d like even better is to prevent the emergency in the first place. Supervision is, of course, imperative, but there are easier ways to police your pool.
- Fences. Nothing could be simpler. You can opt for a permanent, wrought iron masterpiece or the flexibility of a removable fence. Whichever option you choose, we recommend installing a key lock of some type (an ordinary padlock will do). We’ve heard too many stories of precocious preschoolers able to operate the latch on a pool gate (by balancing on lawn chairs, tricycles, pets, etc.) Just make sure the key is placed in some unlikely, inaccessible spot as well.
- Safety Pool Covers. These are mesh or solid covers that are pulled taut and secured to the deck at recessed brackets. Flimsy solar covers offer no protection against drowning, but safety covers are strong enough for an adult to walk on and offer warranties of up to 25 years. The mesh ones also allow rain to pass through while keeping out leaves and debris. We’re keeping pools clean and saving kids’ lives – how’s that for multi-tasking?
- Alarms. You’ve got a lot of options here: in-pool alarms, gate alarms, door alarms. The technology for in-pool alarms has improved in recent years so that the siren doesn’t go off every time a leaf falls into the pool. Gate alarms not only alert you when a child opens the gate, but also when an adult fails to close the gate. Door alarms are placed at all house doors that lead to pool access. Our absolute favorite “alarm” isn’t an alarm at all. One of our ASC parents has a security system that announces any door that is opened (“Back Door – Open,” in a feminine voice like the computer in Star Trek). Pretty handy when you’re as worried about the kids escaping into the front yard as the back.
So which one should you get? You need to judge what will work best with your family, but ideally you need more than one barrier or alarm. There is no ONE sure fire way to protect your children from drowning; the trick is to wrap them in layers of protection. Swim lessons, barriers and alarms, and educated supervision all work together to keep kids safe, each making up for deficiencies in the other methods. Think of it like planning a balanced meal and choose one from each group.
Safety Week at Academy Swim Club contains a lot of information, but these three easy water safety rules just might save your child’s life. Review them early and often for a watersmart kid!
1. Never swim alone – Always swim with a grown-up!
This is the number one rule in the pool. Even a good swimmer can get a cramp or hit his head and need help. Oh, and make sure your child understands what age qualifies as an adult. A three year old might consider her ten year old cousin a “grown up”.
2. Never jump in to save someone–Get a grown-up (or Reach & Throw–Don’t Go)
Some kids will instinctively jump into a pool to rescue another child that is struggling, especially a sibling or close friend or relative. It is especially important to train young children that the best way to help is to tell an adult (again, making sure they are clear on who makes the cut-off). Reassure your child that he will not be in trouble (even if he broke the rules and snuck out to the pool with his little sister). In the event that an adult is not available for some reason, school age children can be taught Reach and Throw rescues. The rescuer holds out a hand, towel, noodle, etc. for the child in the water to grab ahold of, and then tows her back to the side. The rescuer MUST lie on his/her tummy while pulling the victim to safety so s/he is not accidentally pulled into the water as well.
3. Wall Walk to the Steps
Wall walking is like the Vice President of water safety skills – unappreciated and overlooked, but really, really important in the case of an emergency. If your child falls into a pool then manages to grab the wall, the safest way to exit is to wall walk to the stairs (not to be confused with the ladder, which can be slippery). He should NOT try to climb out at the side. Chances are he will fall back in and not have the energy to make it back to the wall again. It’s a good idea to practice wall walking to the left and right – toddlers can become so used to wall walking in one direction that it becomes impossible for them to go the other way.
Talk to your child about these rules regularly, emphasizing the actions he or she should take in case of a water emergency.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently updated it policy on swimming lessons for toddlers. Until now the AAP advised against swim lessons for children under four. However, in light of studies that show that children ages one to four are less likely to drown if they receive formal swim instruction, the AAP has revised its recommendation. A news release on the AAP website now states that, for children one to four years old, “Parents should decide whether to enroll an individual child in swim lessons based on the child’s frequency of exposure to water, emotional development, physical abilities, and certain health concerns. . .” That sound you hear is thousands of swim instructors giving each other a big high-five! Don’t tell us toddlers can’t learn to swim. We all have stories of a toddler we taught to swim falling into grandma’s pool on Thanksgiving and getting himself to safety.
Drowning is the leading cause of death in children under five – number two in children ages one to nineteen, with toddlers and teenage boys most at risk. It is true that each child learns to swim at his own pace based on many factors including general temperament and ability, the attitude of his or her parents and past experience with the water. Early exposure to swim lessons allows a toddler to develop his ability in the water as well as on land. Everyone in Southern California is exposed to water more than we realize. Even if there is not a pool in our own backyard, the neighbors have one. Plus there are community pools, parks, lakes and rivers. Many people now have inexpensive, large, inflatable pools that can be up to four feet deep. Waiting until a child is four or older only prolongs the length of time they are at risk by not knowing how to save themselves in the water. A good swim program will not only teach swimming, but also include a complete water safety program.
The AAP also warns, rightly so, that swim lessons are not enough to prevent drowning and emphasize “layers of protection”. The first and best “layer” is vigilant adult supervision around any water, including fountains and bathtubs. A child that knows how to swim is still vulnerable to injury. They also advise parents to learn CPR and completely fence backyard pools. Early swim lessons are another vital safety net to help prevent an emergency.
Batray can be a difficult level for some kids to conquer. It’s the floating. It’s the floating. It’s the floating. It is as much a mental game as a physical skill. First let’s examine the physics of floating.
The fact is – fat floats. This does not mean that if your child is a good floater she is overweight, just that proportionally she has enough fat on her body to help hold up her denser muscle and bone. Statistically speaking, the girls have it all over the boys on this one. Sure, there are some skinny-minnies that struggle with floating (our assistant manager recalls teaching a six year old girl with a six pack to float with no small difficulty), but they are in the minority. What this means for the slim-jims and skinny-minnies is that their body position must be perfect to maintain a back float. Anybody can learn to float, but the extremely slender child does not have any leeway on form.
If only adjusting body position was all it took! Walk out on the pool deck during any given lesson and you will hear instructors shouting themselves hoarse with cries of “Tummy UP!” and “Chin Back!” Children that, by rights, ought to bob like corks in the water are sinking like diving rings. This is because floating requires mental discipline as well as physical alignment. Most kids dislike the feeling of water in their ears. Then there is that business of laying on their backs like capsized turtles – an inherently vulnerable position sure to make any child feel uncomfortable and awkward. Top it off with a heaping helping of “Relax – and DON’T MOVE!” Stillness is not something that comes naturally to most kids.
So how does anyone learn to float? Practice! Most importantly, each child needs to develop the confidence to trust his/her ability to stay above the water. Very much a chicken/egg conundrum, but with practice, every child can get there.
Will teaching your child to swim save him or her from accidental drowning? Whatever other goals parents may have for enrolling their child in swim lessons, that is always their number one priority. The truth is swim lessons are like seat belts and holding your child’s hand when crossing the street – they provide another layer of protection, but there is more to water safety than putting on a swim suit once or twice a week. Education and training for an emergency are vital.
Several times a year Academy Swim Club holds “Safety Week” as part of our complete water safety program. During this week regular lessons focus on safety skills and preparing our swimmers for handling water emergencies. The most stunning example of this is when we ask our swimmers to jump into the water with their clothes on. All of our swimmers at every level are asked to come to lessons with their clothes on over their swim suit. Water makes clothes heavy and unwieldy, shoes make kicking more difficult – sensations that panic many children at first. That’s why we want their first experience swimming with their clothes on to come in a controlled environment where their instructor stands ready to help the swimmer float and get back to the wall. Panic can strike even the most confident young swimmer caught in an unfamiliar situation, such as falling into a pool while fully clothed. After Safety Week the strange feel of wearing clothes in the water is not new and they are better prepared to cope with this emergency.
Safety Week lessons also focus on what to do if you see someone struggling in the water, when to call 911 and personal flotation device (PFD) use. General rules that should be observed around water are discussed at length, including the most important one – NEVER SWIM ALONE! Drowning is 100% preventable and supervision is key to circumventing tragedy.
Our next Safety Week is from March 22nd through March 27th. Your child should wear regular street clothes (that you won’t mind taking a dip in our pool) over their swimsuit. Shoes and socks should also be worn. Jackets, sweatshirts, etc. also make the lesson more effective. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes and bag to take the wet clothes home in!
Was your mother right? Is it dangerous to swim after eating? Do you really have to wait at least thirty minutes after eating to avoid stomach cramps and possibly drowning?
This “old wives” tale has been around for quite some time and has been perpetuated generation after generation by well meaning, but incorrectly informed, parents. There is not even one recorded case of anyone experiencing stomach cramps and drowning while swimming immediately after eating. As a matter of fact, long distance swimmers eat while in the water, swimming their endurance events.
Consumption of low fat, high carbohydrate foods can be nutritionally beneficial to elite competitive swimmers. However, not eating at all, or eating particular foods immediately before swimming will neither harm nor enhance the swimming ability of most typical recreational swimmers.
Engaging in intense exercise immediately after eating a heavy meal is not beneficial to proper digestion. You shouldn’t try to run a marathon immediately after consuming a Thanksgiving feast, nor should you compete in a long distance competitive swimming event. However, it wouldn’t hurt to go for a short walk around the block after a moderate meal, and neither would it be dangerous to swim a few laps. Just use common sense to decide when it’s appropriate to swim after eating.
An exception to this may be children enrolled in swimming lessons: Because there may be some anxiety or water ingestion, it would be prudent to not eat meat or dairy products within 2 hours of a lesson or any other rigorous exercise.