“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.” - Bruce Lee
Splash! Dive! Dog paddle! Get your kids swimming as early as possible. Yes, it feels good and yes, it’s good for you, but did you know that swimming makes your child smarter? Recent research from Griffith Institute in Australia shows that kids who start swimming early reach their developmental milestones earlier too. This includes basic visual motor skills (like cutting paper and drawing shapes) and extends into more complex skills like language, math, writing and understanding directions. The earlier a child begins swimming and the longer that child stays in the program, the more lasting and beneficial the results.
How early? Toddler years are the perfect time to start. Before children can even count or express themselves in language, they respond to the cues “One two three, go!” when it comes to jumping into the water on three, or kicking to the count of ten. The physical link of thought, language and action creates a body-wise understanding of the complex skills young children need to develop for pre-school and school.
The benefits of swimming are good for the whole family. Water is 1,000 times denser than air, so you get a better workout in the same amount of time, burn more calories, and protect your joints thanks to water’s buoyancy. In the kind of record heat many of us are feeling, the cool splash of water is not only a super workout, but refreshing for body and soul. What’s not to like?
Well, new experiences are often uncomfortable, and coaxing your toddler into the water for the first time may be a challenge. My son hated swimming at first. It took a number of try try agains and bucket loads of patience, but now Alessio is a little dolphin, proudly swimming across the skinny end of the pool like he has just won an Olympic gold.
The scene is set: a warm summer day and you are ready to jump in the pool the pool. But your toddler is screaming with crocodile tears running down his face. He’s afraid of the water, afraid of the bigness of the pool - a thousand times bigger than his little tub, and the way he sees the water swallow you up to your neck is not that reassuring. It's his first time in a swimming pool. How do you ease his fears?
Talk him through the experience. “Mommy is going to be right next to you the whole time. I will keep you safe and won't let go of you.”
Give him a choice. “You can come into the pool with Mommy or just sit on the edge and get your feet wet.” Let him dip his toes until he is used to the water. Then invite him in again.
Have fun. Show him how much fun you are having (even if you have to pretend). If he is sitting on the side of the pool, let him splash you. Splashing mommy is usually a toddler favorite. It always gets them laughing - and that’s half the battle. It’s hard to laugh and hold onto fear at the same time.
Reward courage. When he finally takes his first brave step into the water, reward his courage. Be sure to praise him. Gently encourage him to explore the new sensations. Splash and play. Keep the game going until he wants to get out. Do your best to make the whole experience a happy memory. One that he will want to do again.
Sign up for a local swimming program. Many communities offer swimming programs for children through youth centers, Red Cross, YMCA and fitness centers. Find out what’s available in your area and get splashing.
Happy summer, one and all!