With Spring well underway and parents flocking to swim programs for an early start on swim lessons, it is time to revisit this popular topic about the benefits (and detriments) of starting your little one (4 months to 2 1/2 years of age) off early in the water.
To summarize Part 1, we discussed while it is definitely important your infant or toddler partake in lesson or pool exposure, and that amazing things can happen at this age, the question When will my child be able to swim on their own? is a very loaded question with answers that hinge on a hierarchy of expectations. Swimming takes a certain physical strength and cognitive development, and while that develops daily for each young age, it will not be until much older, say 7 or 8, will your kid be able to handle the kind of true swimming independence where you can turn your back. If you need a refresher on Part 1, go ahead and click here.
Part 2 is about getting closer to the pros and cons with starting swimming at 1 1/2 to nearly 3 years of age.
The Cons: Moodiness, Lack of Judgment & Comprehension
This is usually a very difficult age for me to teach. I think this is a very difficult age for mom or dad. Lessons, or water exposure sessions, can go sweet or sour or any given day or moment. I’ve had 2-year olds love going underwater so much they didn’t want to leave after the first lesson, only to start screaming-crying at the start of the next.
I think it must be hard to have opinions and separation anxiety and not be able to express yourself verbally, which is what I feel is going on with this age group spread. I can only think to refer to this moodiness as early (and extended) “Terrible Two’s.”
- My advice: Sign up for one private one-on-one lesson or group class where you can get in the water — a situation where you can be told and showed how to do skills and if your child isn’t having the best day, you can walk away without disrupting the class or loosing too much money. If you’re curious on what to work on skill-wise for this age, go here.
Another con to discuss is how at this age, children lack a sense of judgment. They might love the water, but they don’t know how to not run straight for it when they see it. Cognitive development — the kind we instructors need to have a retaining conversation about pool rules — isn’t there yet.
- My advice: Always, alway, always, get into the pool first before your child, and make them climb out first as well. Use cuing. Meaning before they jump or swim to you once in the pool, make them wait until they hear your cue, such as 1~2~3! before they do it. No matter what your child can do, it is unacceptable to leave them in the pool unattended. Do not teach your child that swimming without you, or without someone else, is okay. Work on pool rules and safe behaviors now.
This leads us into comprehension, or communication. Instruction is about taking in information and applying it. What your early/extended Terrible Two’s cannot communicate through words is done through tears (and only a parent knows how to make it better). Crying in water, for any reason doesn’t grow happy swimmers.
- My advice: Use adult words or swimming language from the beginning, especially on the safety front. Manage the communication barriers yourself. You cannot inflict an instructor with the impossibility of getting your child to do something they can’t mentally understand or emotionally carry out until their age allows them to.
The Pros: Submersion & A Good Start
The pros don’t need much cheering. The best thing you can do for your child is take them underwater, or fully submerge them.
- My advice: Introduce the sensation of water pouring on the head using “water play” tactics. Sing songs and dribble over the face and head to establish comfort. Use your cuing before you dribble. Move on to secured lifts or jumps off the side of the pool, where you are holding your child the whole time and have eye contact. You cue into the water — and under the water– at your control and confidence. You build up to a full submersion together.
If you notice, most of the advice I give for this age requires you get into the pool with your baby or toddler. That means having a pool or a membership at a pool. Most of my advice requires you being the first experience of a good swimming example, which means being patient and working on age-appropriate skills until the cognitive ability to understand more is present. Yes, to have a swim kid, you must be a swim parent and swim by example. That’s probably not just the safest advice I can give you, but the best head start too.