Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

When I was a toddler, Mom wrote to her sis...

When I was a toddler, Mom wrote to her sister, “I can’t keep Sue from slopping around in the chicken trough with her shoes on.” In other words, I was a normal toddler who liked water. Slopping around in chicken troughs wasn’t life threatening, but let’s pretend that your toddler has access to a creek, pond, horse trough, lake or pool. That is a life-threatening matter.

I’ve taught people of all ages to swim, trained more than 1,100 American Red Cross senior life savers and certified 95 water-safety instructors. I’d like to suggest a routine practice that could help solve the dilemma of your wanting a child to enjoy the water yet concerned that he might get in it without permission.

Consider a typical toddler whom I’ll call him Terry. Let’s pretend that he’s less than 3 years old. He loves his bath and splashes water all over the room. You can hardly wait to see what he’ll do when you take him to a place where he can splash and you won’t have to mop it up! Terry will try kicking it, running in it, whacking it with a stick, jumping in it and drinking it. You’ll shout, “Not to drink!” And you’ll insist. You’re teaching Terry to love water but also protecting him. Every time he sticks his tongue out to put it in the water you’ll stop him. In a similar way you can teach him not to get into water by himself.

Buy Terry some new bathing trunks and say, “These are Terry’s trunks to wear when we are playing in the pool.” Buy him a special towel, too, and a little toy that floats -- but one to ride on or in. Tell him he’ll wear his new trunks when you go to play in the water together. The key word here is “together.”

Apply sunscreen and go through the “toilet, tub, teacher” sequence; then go hand-in-hand to the water. Before entering say, “You sit here, Terry, while I check it out.” Then you get in cautiously and walk around. Splash some up on your shoulders, wash water over your face and head. Then go back to Terry, hold your arms out and say, “OK, Terry, now you can come in with me.”

The three important things in this routine are that you are in the water first, that you called his name and that you’re doing something together. Simple, isn’t it?

The key words are “with me.” And it’s important to call his name frequently to help him get togetherness firmly in mind. Play with the toy, kick and splash, keep busy to keep warm but don’t stay in too long. Wrap Terry in his new towel and talk about coming back soon. Start this ritual when he’s totally dependent on you and “loosen the reins” gradually through the months and years.

I’ve given swimming lessons to hundreds of children 4 years old and older and I’m aware that, even at that age, some who are obedient about most other things often forget when around water. I’ve taught them that water is not a place to swim unless a responsible person is watching. I’ve warned, “If you and a friend were hiking and you came to a creek, a pond or this very swimming pool where you are now, it’s not a place to swim until someone who’s in the water, calls you by name and says, ‘I’ll be your life ~guard.’*”

Even my teenage grandchildren, heading for the pool, ask, “Granny, can we go on in?” I smile because they don’t realize how they acquired the habit of asking permission.


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