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
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
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
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
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
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.