As Australians, we all like a dip in the pool or at the beach to cool off during the hot summer months, which should mean that water safety is a priority for all families with young children.
Sadly though, every year children die as a result of drowning. In fact, children under five are the group most at risk of drowning according to Royal Life Saving Australia, and swimming lessons and swimming safety is one of the key ways to help change this. Ross Gage is the CEO of Australian Swim Schools Association and he gives us some tips on how to start with teaching our children those essential water skills.
How old should they be?
“Four months is a generally accepted starting age now,” Ross reveals. While this might sound young, it is an age when a child has received some of their immunisation shots, they have a constant medical history and the immune system has strengthened. He says some babies start even younger, but that it’s critical to see teachers who are especially trained to teach babies.
“They teach through the parent so it's time for wonderful parental involvement in there,” he continues.
Listen to Ross on Kinderling Conversation:
What will they be learning?
At a young age, babies can start laying down the foundations for a life of a water confidence. They'll start by learning:
- Breath control. Ross says this is a precursor to water submersion.
- Turning and gripping. This is crucial for water safety. If a child falls into deep water, the ability to turn around in the water and grab the edge of a pool is life-saving.
- Floating, including back floating.
What’s really important though, is that none of this is forced upon a child.
“Particularly with those skills, it's absolutely imperative that there's no force used; it's got to be an enjoyable process that the children are ready for and that’s developmentally appropriate for them,” Ross explains.
What if your child is really resisting swimming lessons?
Ross says that you should engage a range of strategies if your bub isn’t enjoying the water.
- Do not force your child to do something they’re not ready for and don’t want to do. This can turn them off swimming for life. It would be awful if your child was traumatised and hated swimming in the future!
- Speak with your swim teacher about strategies. “Sometimes you'll be able to isolate into another part of the pool and just play some games to calm down that way,” Ross suggests.
- Try to discover why they’re upset in the first place and take appropriate action. Maybe they’re hungry or tired and there’s no use pushing them along. Maybe they just need some cuddle time, and then they’ll be okay to continue learning.
- While it’s ideal for your child to finish each lesson, if they get two thirds of the way through and are too upset to continue, consider stopping there for that day. Don’t get fixated on finishing the class.
What should I look for in a swim school?
Ross explains that there’s a number of things to take into consideration when looking for a swim school:
- Check that the swim school is a member of Australian Swim Schools Association.
- The individual teacher should have a recognised national accreditation.
- Ask around your community about the school’s reputation to gauge others’ experiences.
- It should be a friendly, helpful place that’s clean and well maintained. Ross says that particularly for younger ones, the water and air temperatures should be nice and comfortable so that the experience is enhanced. This will also help them relax and learn better.
- A child-centred space that integrates swimming skills and water safety is key.
- Usually a swimming lesson for this age is around 30 minutes.
When can parents hop out of the pool?
Sadly, one common thread across many fatal drownings is the lack of constant adult supervision.
“Even if a child can swim, constant adult supervision has to be there,” Ross says. “That's absolutely critical for under-fives and non-swimmers, [for adults to stay] within arm's reach.”
Once there’s more skills and competence in children over five, Ross says you may be able to somewhat relax your supervision.
“But you're still going to have to be around,” he reminds. “And it's really critical that there's a designated pool watcher … There are no distractions with mobile phones or drinking.”
Ross suggests that at parties and other gatherings with multiple children, parents should share this responsibility around for 20 minutes or so before swapping over.
This article is brought to you by Paul Sadler Swimland, the survival specialists. Book your children’s lessons now for a safer summer.
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