I’m usually writing about the business and ‘big picture’ aspects of water safety, but hanging at the pool with my children this summer has reminded me, once again, why I love my work. It’s because I love water and I have loved being in the water with my children since they were babies. Today I’m highlighting some of the best water safety games that I learned from various teachers over the years and talking about the best ages to start teaching water safety.
Swimming lessons are a tradition for many families – once children get to be school age. But don’t wait so long to introduce your children to the water, and don’t think that swimming lessons is the same thing as teaching children to be safe around the water. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that children start in swimming lessons from the age of one. Why? Because drowning is a leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 globally. That is terrifying to most parents and many instinctively react by trying to keep their kids away from water until they are older, but the opposite approach will keep your child safer – for their whole life.
Think about it – babies are in water in the womb for their first 9 months. Water is naturally soothing. Do you remember your baby’s expression when they had their first bath? Quizzical at first and then a bit alarmed when they hit the water and it splashed, but then pure joy. Bath-time becomes a treasured ritual. Your baby loves the feeling of your arm around them and your close attention. And, water truly does soothe the savage beast – it’s calming. Children naturally gravitate towards water because it is soothing – and fun, and the source of great joy.
There are a number of things that you can do with our child whenever you are near water, starting in infancy and adding as they get older – and remember, all of these ‘games’ are also fun for children, so it’s a positive experience for both of you.
Bath safety: Start by being positive with your baby in the bath. Toys, songs, allowing them to splash are all important ways of making your baby comfortable in and around water which will lessen their fear later on. It’s especially good for your baby to gradually get used to having water poured over their face – it’s the first step to putting their face in and blowing bubbles. Splashing may make a mess but it also lets a baby control water getting in their face. Talk to your baby, tell them you will always be near them when they are in water – and then do it – never leave your child alone in the tub.
Stories: Use a book like ‘Jabari Makes A Splash’ to teach your child ‘never go near water without a grownup’. You can order the book at Amazon and there are free coloring sheets at the web-site to remind kids of the lessons. Think about hanging up a favorite drawing in the bathroom to remind everyone that a grownup needs to be nearby whenever children are in the tub.
Humpty Dumpty: Start playing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ as soon as your child can sit up. Your child sits on the side of the pool while you hold them, you sing ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and when Humpty does a big fall you help your child ‘fall’ forward and then say ‘turn around and hold on!’ Their head doesn’t go under water and at first they probably can’t even grasp the side, so just put their clenched fist on the side of the pool. But over time you graduate to having their head go under and eventually letting go of them, but always, ‘turn around and hold on’, because you want that to be their immediate reaction if they fall in the pool unexpectedly.
Monkey Hands: When your child has the physical coordination, have them hold on to the side of the pool with both hands, with feet against the wall and ‘walk’ their hands around the pool. At first they may only be able to go a couple of feet – to the ladder or steps, but over time they’ll want to try going around the whole pool and then pulling themselves out on the side – no ladder or steps!.
For Older Kids: Hold your child’s hand and have them push down to touch the bottom of the pool, then where the pool slopes once they get a bit older and have mastered Humpty Dumpty and Monkey Hands. Again, it will help them internalize the correct reaction if they fall in – ‘oh yes, I just push up from the bottom and grab the side’. You are teaching them to just react correctly to save themselves.
Then move on to jumping in the deep end and swimming the length of the pool, diving for rings, and ‘coral reef dives’ – swimming between your legs without touching the coral (your legs) or the coral will scrape them. Whatever fun games you can devise that will get your kids comfortable with being in the water and out of their depth will help keep your kids safer.
The idea with all these games is the same, give the child confidence, let them learn their limits in the water gradually, and most importantly, teach them what to do if they ever do fall in the water unexpectedly. You are teaching them to rescue themselves, or at worst, not panic for at least a crucial minute or two until you notice they are missing. And be prepared for each child to progress at a radically different rate. My son was diving and swimming competently at four, my daughter didn’t really connect until age seven – but they both love water, are swimming well, and understand safety and their own limitations.
Water will be around your child their whole life, and it is a source of great joy and health – help your child to enjoy the water safely. See you at the beach and the pool!
If you agree that water safety can be fun, click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids says water safety games make water fun, and safe! http://bit.ly/19Y2whG #stopdrowning’