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Littlies learning to swim: We get your questions answered

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Today at Sassy Mama we’re talking all things swimming! No doubt many parents with littlies are keen to introduce their babies to the water and are curious about the best approach for teaching kids to swim. With swimming pools abound in Dubai, getting the kids confident in the water is an absolute necessity! We chat to swim coach, Sam Jackson, to get you the low down on learning to swim.

How early do you recommend starting swimming lessons?

I recommend starting from 6 months; as the most important skill you can pick up is confidence, and the ability to relax in water, which can be acquired at a young age and makes a huge difference to their swimming later on.  And what better time to start than before any fears are acquired! Whilst these classes can seem repetitive at times they are important to ensure safety skills and confidence are instilled right from the start, there is nothing gained in surprising a toddler each week with new skills if they are not confident with prior skills taught. Even before this, mothers should be taking their children to the pool to get them used to being in water, if not in the bathtub at home.

Is there anything mothers can do with very tiny babies to make sure they aren’t afraid of the water, even at bath-time, like I hear about mamas who “dunk” their babies?

First of all no child should ever be submerged if they are not ready. In classes we ensure kids are nice and relaxed and aware of what to do before being submerged so they can hold their breaths or better still blow their bubbles- which is the most important skill they will acquire. No one likes swallowing pool water, and it’s the same for babies, and furthermore not good for them! A great thing to do in the bathtub, which we use in classes to prepare babies for swims, is to count to three and slowly pour a bit of water over their head and face to get them used to it. We like babies to get used to a “1, 2, 3” prompt so they can prepare for water on their faces or even being submerged as it allows them to hold their breaths or blow out. Holding them on their backs is a great drill in the tub too so they get used to the sensation of water in their ears and learn to relax and become aware of their own buoyancy.

What is your point of view on arm bands and float supports for toddlers – yay or nay?

I completely understand the need for arm bands and float aids for parents that have more than one child under their supervision at a time, but if this is not the case I would completely avoid them. From my experience, kids with armbands tend to get too comfortable swimming vertically in the water, and thus when it comes to putting them on their fronts and convincing them to put their faces in the water, they tend to be extremely unwilling. We like kids to get comfortable and relaxed on their fronts and backs in the water as the more relaxed they are, the more buoyant they are, with greater freedom to move their limbs. Kids that come off float aids tend to tense up in these situations making them heavy in the water and uncomfortable. That all being said, a floatation aid on their backs can help greatly if a child is putting their face in the water, as it can aid them breathing properly and allow them to relax their hips to develop an effective kick. A “pool noodle” can be great with supervision as they can swim around horizontally and look down and blow bubbles too.

How do you recommend that little swimmers stay safe in the sun?

Babies can be very sensitive to the sun so it should be avoided if at all possible for prolonged periods of time. Child sensitive sunscreen should be worn and I highly recommend a UV protective rash vest or wetsuit and hat.

What can mamas do to encourage their little ones to love the water and be confident in it?

From my experience one of the most important things a parent can do is be relaxed in the water with the child. A tense parent who is not confident or comfortable in the water often can pass this discomfort to the child. I have seen this countless times with fathers who are yet to be comfortable holding their children. Whilst we try to make classes fun through songs and play, every activity has a purpose in aiding a child’s  ability in the water. The most important thing to do is just spend time in the water with your babies, if attending classes reinforce activities and skills practiced and if not just have fun with them. I am always amazed when parents tell me the only time they swim is when they come to class, nothing compensates for time spent in the pool. We want children to associate water with something to be enjoyed whilst providing the skills and know how for them to be safe.

My little one had a bad experience and is now scared to go in the swimming pool – do you have any tips for how to work through this without forcing the issue?

Take your time! Never force a child to do anything they don’t want to, there is a reason they are afraid. When holding a child you can feel them tense up which tells you they are not comfortable and to ease up a bit. Hold them in the water, blow bubbles, let them know your there and that they are safe. I once had a girl who for 3 months was petrified, hated swimming, refused to look down, was tense and uncomfortable. Luckily the parents were patient and happy to persevere and through a lot of patience and making water fun and relaxing  we got her swimming and she caught right up to kids her own age. I have had kids who have been forced under water prior and take a long time to forget and move past that and if someone had been patient to start with this instilled fear could have been completely avoided. Patience is key, a parents role is to support and encourage but never force and this works a 100% of the time.

Samuel_JacksonSam Jackson is a fully qualified Australian swim coach based in Singapore. He teaches water confidence and learn-to-swim classes to babies as young as 6 months of age, as well a full range of swimming classes for teens and adults looking to improve their swimming skills.

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