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Public Service Announcement: How to Teach Your Kids To Swim

Anyone who knows me knows that I love swimming. I started on swim team at six years old, started teaching swim lessons at 14, and was a swim coach for three years. I was also a lifeguard for five years. So, yes, I’ve spent a lot of time at pools.

I believe that swimming was a tremendous gift that my parents gave me. It is my form of meditation, and a form of exercise I can carry with me into adulthood, and through two pregnancies and recovering from knee surgery. I definitely want to pass on the same gift to my children.

Swimming is our main activity together in the summer.  This past weekend was our first weekend at the Elks Club outdoor pool, which will be our destination every weekend for the rest of the summer.  Nothing makes me happier than sharing my love of the water with my kids (OK, maybe skiing with them, but it’s not the season for that).

What frustrates me, though, is watching how some other local parents approach swimming with their children. Namely, when people put their small children in life vests, suits that have built-in flotation and water wings.

At all of the pools I worked at, having flotation devices on your children was strictly prohibited. There was a good reason for that rule — putting children in flotation devices gives them a false sense of security in the water. They believe they can swim, and they do not learn the proper respect for the water. It also messes up their body positioning in the water.

Yesterday, I watched a woman who had her two year old in a life vest and water wings. The woman was in the water, but standing three feet from her daughter, saying, “Look, you can swim!”

What I see is a two year old getting false confidence that could be deadly if she comes across a body of water while an adult isn’t looking.

What also drives me crazy is the parents who put their kids in flotation devices and then sit on the deck watching from afar, often immersed in conversation or a book. First rule of teaching your kids to swim: GET IN THE WATER. There is no replacement for adult supervision. Ever. Keep the flotation devices OFF of your children, and get in and hold them, teaching them how to kick, blow bubbles, hold their breath, and move their arms. It is really that simple. Those simple skills may take a while, but that is really what it’s all about.

Also have them practice grabbing onto the wall, doing the monkey walk to get to more shallow water, and getting out on their own (that’s right, without any pushes from the parent). It is my goal to ensure if my kids fall into a pool by accident that they won’t panic, will be able to turn around, grab the wall, and get out. I also drill into their heads that they do not get in the water without me. Period. My almost  four year old will wait patiently on the step until I get to the pool.

I think it’s also important to get in and swim with your kids. Get your hair wet. Wear goggles and have underwater tea parties.Swim like a mermaid.  While I was at the pool yesterday, and for the majority of the time, I was the only parent in the water. So many women don’t want to get their hair wet or mess up their makeup. My advice to you: get over it! It is much more fun to just jump in completely than worry about every splash messing something up. I think my kids learn how to respect and enjoy the water because they see me doing it as well.

IMG_4278So what should you do with your kids? If they’re young, it’s all about imagination and play. Try ring around the rosy (you all fall down underwater and blow bubbles), host tea parties, go on lion hunts (or insert your favorite animal, going through obstacles like sinking sand, holes, water falls, etc. on your quest), play tag. I buy my kids super cool pool toys each year (because they all seem to disappear by the end of the summer anyway). We have a shark, dive rings, kick board, a mermaid fin, etc. The kick board is strictly for kicking with my supervision. It is not a flotation device! I will not buy them anything inflatable besides a ball. The ball is only acceptable because they cannot rely on it to keep them afloat. They must rely on me or themselves to stay afloat.

I think getting kids goggles also makes a huge difference. I’ve found the brand Finis to be the most reliable against leaks. Goggles take away the strange sensation of water in your eyes, and also helps you to open your eyes underwater and feel comfortable.

One other bit of advice that isn’t safety related…if you have a girl who prizes her long hair like mine does, go out and buy UltraSwim Shampoo.  When I was seven and on swim team, I had to cut my long hair up above my ears at the end of the summer because my hair turned green and was dry and brittle.  Have your daughter wash her hair with Ultra Swim after every dip in the pool, and it also helps a lot for them to wear a cap, as a lot of damage is caused by the swishing motion in the water.

There you have my words of advice. And for the record, I do own life vests for my kids, but those are saved strictly for our lake or ocean outings, where a wave or a sudden dip in the sand could pull them under.  They never wear flotation devices in the pool.

After three hours in the pool yesterday, I taught my kids a lifeguard trick…when you’re chilled from being in the water so long, there is NOTHING that feels as good as laying on the hot cement. NOTHING. I had a moment yesterday when we all three were laying on the pool deck together, and I couldn’t help beaming, knowing that the tradition of swimming will live on in these two.

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About Lynnette Bellin

Lynnette Bellin
Lynnette Bellin is the former owner and site manager of the Reno Moms Blog. She is a married mother of a teenage daughter and a highly energetic tween boy. Lynnette moved to Reno in 2001 after choosing to live in a place that she loved for its natural beauty. She has written four children's books, including The Kindness Ninja and a series of three books called Adeline’s Magical Moments Collection. She has been obsessed with blogging since 2002. Lynnette loves to experience outdoor adventures in our area, including skiing, hiking, camping, and open water swimming. She spends her days working from home for a NYC ad agency and shuttling kids to dance, lacrosse and basketball.

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