In my five years as a swimming instructor I have had the privilege of seeing a range of emotions that comes from a child’s first encounter with a swimming pool. First you have the screamers, who are absolutely terrified of the concept of being surrounded by water. Then there are the kids who are overly courageous and think they can float based on sheer willpower. Finally, there is the range of kids in between who are aware of the danger but eager to learn how to stay safe.
This is a compilation of tips based on my experiences as both a swimmer and a coach on how prepare your child (and yourself) for their future aquatic endeavours.
Goggles: Not all kids feel they need them, and some can, in fact, do just fine without them. Just keep in mind that a child who keeps getting water in their eyes and wiping it out, is not focusing on the swimming skill that are needed to keep the safe in the water. For the sake of learning how to swim, it is always easiest to have a pair of goggles handy, even if the water doesn’t impede your child’s ability to swim.
Pro Tip: To find goggles that fit, place the lenses over your child’s eyes as if they are going to wear them, but don’t strap the bands over the back of their head. If the goggles are able to stay on without being strapped at the back, they will likely be able to keep the water out when the goggles are on properly.
Swim Caps: I know the pain of those silicone swim caps is unparalleled. Not to worry. There are now cloth swimming caps that will keep hair out of the way without ripping it from your scalp! Swimming caps are most important for keeping long hair (past the shoulders) contained so that it doesn’t fall in your eyes and, more importantly, so that it doesn’t get caught in vents and jets. Long hair should always be tied up, if not with a swim cap, then in a tight bun or ponytail.
Bathing Suit: Girls should wear one-piece bathing suits that have a snug fit. Two pieces are fine too, but they often slip and adjust while swimming and can lead to a lot of swimwear malfunctions. If you prefer to keep the arms and legs covered try to keep swimwear as tight-fitting as possible. You can find long sleeved swim shirts and girls swim shorts (along with any other swim gear) at places like Walmart, National Sports, and Sport Chek.
For boys, try to avoid basketball shorts. Though similar in fit to swim trunks, they do not work as effectively. Where swimming trunks are made to resist the water, basketball shorts will absorb the water and add weight to your child’s body, slowing them down and making it harder for them to move through the water, even with correct technique. Swim trunks are the way to go, or better yet, racer shorts, which have a closer fit and are even more efficient than swimming trunks.
Avoid: Nose plugs, floatation devices, and water shoes. Nose plugs can be something of a comfort to children, however they can interfere with breathing techniques that are essential when learning how to swim. In regards to floatation devices, kids tend to become dependent on them and this hinders them from learning to swim independently. Water shoes will interfere with the natural shape of the feet, and because of their awkward bulk, make it difficult to push through the water with ease.
3 Things to Avoid Buying
1. Nose plugs
Nose plugs can be something of a comfort to children, however they can interfere with breathing techniques that are essential when learning how to swim.
2. Floatation devices
Kids tend to become dependant on floatation devices and this hinders them from learning to swim independently.
3. Water Shoes
Water shoes will interfere with the natural shape of the feet, and because of their awkward bulk, make it difficult to push through the water with ease.
Always make sure your child is aware of the risk that water poses. Don’t paralyze them with fear, but let them know that they need to be careful. Explain swimming to them the way you would explain the importance of looking both ways when crossing the street.
Get your child accustomed to putting their face in the water and blowing bubbles. Splashing water in a child’s face during bath time can work wonders for their comfort in the water. Try to show your child that water can be fun and exciting and this will help ensure that they are safe, as well as teach them to trust themselves.
Skin and Hair Care: Chlorine is a menace on hair, eyes, and skin. To protect hair, rub conditioner at the roots and tips of your child’s hair just before going into the pool. This will coat it with a protective layer and help keep it from chlorine damage. Don’t wait to rinse or wash hair after getting out of the pool. The longer you wait to rinse chlorine off, the more time it has to wreak havoc.
To protect skin, rub on a layer of baby oil or petroleum jelly before getting in the water. This is something I do before every shift and it works wonders. All you need is a thin layer of baby oil on the arms and legs and this will protect skin while in the water as well as when you get out. This is especially important for children with skin conditions like eczema. If your child has sensitive skin, it can often crack and start to bleed and make your child uncomfortable.
After swimming, be sure to moisturize. A good alternative to cosmetic lotions is coconut oil, which is light and natural and leaves skin soft and strong.
Avoid: Swimming with open cuts. It can be painful and, if the pool or deck is dirty, can increase the risk of infection to open wounds. It is also unhygienic for other kids swimming in the pool.
Practice with your child. Ask their instructor what you can do to help them practice. Always encourage your child to work hard.
Avoid: Disappointment. Remember, your kid is not going to qualify for the Olympics after their first lesson. They will get water in their noses, in their eyes and mouths, they will be scared and unfocused. It takes time to get comfortable in the water and even longer to be efficient in the water. Be patient. Encourage your kids. Swimming should always be fun