Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Parents shouldn’t teach tots to swim too early

It happened again last week: An eager mother said, "She just loves her B-A-T-H. We have to spell it because she loves it so. Do you think I should give Stacey swimming lessons?"

"Of course, Holly, — but not now! Wait about three more years!"

This wonderful young mother was disappointed at my curt answer. She knew I was sincere and that, in my earlier years, I had taught thousands of children to swim. She didn’t know that I refused to enroll tiny tots.

Her Stacey is 15 months old, walking, running, saying a few words and her parents have to spell bath! I handed Holly two newspaper clippings I read recently. One was of the tragic death of a child, face down in its bathtub, and the other of the near-drowning of 4-year-old Alexis in a hotel pool. Perhaps both children loved the water.

Alexis and her 5-year-old cousin were playing on the pool’s underwater steps while her mother watched. Alexis didn’t have her water wings but was supposed to stay on the steps. The mother, momentarily distracted, found Alexis blue, limp and face down in the water.

Chris Weinreich, 19, who learned CPR in Boy Scouts several years ago, used artificial breathing and "chest pumping" and revived the child before the emergency crew arrived. What a great guy, that Chris!

With water wings, children have an unnatural balance in the water; without them it’s entirely different. Parents of small children who play in toy turtles, rings and water wings should be sure their children also play in shallow water without those devices.

To really understand the child’s buoyancy and balance problems, parents should put on an adult life preserver and feel the danger in switching from "wings" to "no wings."

Holly and her husband are Stacey’s swimming teachers at bath time and for the plastic pool in her yard.

To help waterproof her, I suggest a game: "Bath?" you ask. "First, find Stacey’s special bath towel ... now your wash cloth ... now pajamas ... and a favorite bath toy." When the water is ready, say, "I’ll be your lifeguard, and now, Stacey, I’ll help you get in the tub."

The bath game gives Stacey a big play-acting role with responsibility and praise. The authority of the parent lifeguard will establish a pattern that can last for years.

Continue the ritual of this game for the play pool: Apply sunscreen, and then give Stacey a package to open. "This is Stacey’s special swimming suit to wear in the play pool."

Designate a bag for toy, towel and dry clothes and let her carry it herself. "I am your lifeguard; Daddy is your lifeguard sometimes." Always reinforce the lifeguard idea.

The game is an attempt to help prevent drowning. Tots who love water and who have been told what great little swimmers they are have been found, too late, in ponds, lakes, lagoons, lily pools and horse troughs. Heaven forbid!

What about swimming lessons? The idea of a little tot swimming well enough to save his own life is unrealistic. The child likes to run in water, splash it, float boats in it, drink it, spit it, sit in it, kick big splashes, beat it with a stick. Swimming lessons will come later.

Fun in the water and respect for the lifeguard’s presence are more important than being the best swimmer in day care! Later I’ll suggest fun things for parents and their children to do together, getting ready for swimming lessons at about kindergarten age or later.

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