Leopold Swim School looks at parental influences in baby or toddler classes with Julie Ham

You are asking who is Julie Ham?  Julie is a former Australian Swimming representative who wrote the following interesting article;

Parents seeking ways to improve their young child’s confidence, independence and relaxation in water need look no further than their role as the caregiver ahead of and doing a swimming lesson.  The caregiver plays an invaluable role in assisting and enhancing the child’s aquatic development.

Influences on a baby’s swimming ability are exerted well before a baby enters a swimming pool, and in fact these influences begin at birth with the bathing process.  Parents need to be aware of the verbal and physical influences they impart to their child about water.  If  the parent themself exhibits nervousness or fear around water, these emotions may in turn be passed on to the baby or young child, regardless of whether they have been verbalised.

Phrases such as “don’t go near the water, it’s dangerous!”, or actions including hastily dragging a child away from an aquatic environment such as the edge of the pool are likely to cultivate within a young child a negative attitude toward water, and in turn will magnify the difficulties associated with introducing the child to the water or swim lessons.

During initial swim lessons in particular, it is important for parents to be positive and to display their enthusiasm for the experience.  Young children, and especially babies, are extremely in tune with their mum and dad’s reactions and responses, and an infant’s reaction to a new environment, sight sounds and people will to a large extent be determined by the response of the carer.  For this reason, parents need to remain relaxed throughout the duration of a swim lesson.

A parent’s body language is an important component of ensuring early swim lessons go smoothly, and is integral to the success of the water familiarization and learn-to-swim processes.  A parent who is nervous and clings to their child or holds them out of the water sends a message to the child is in an unsafe environment.  Instead, the parent in the swim lesson should remain relaxed with your shoulders at the water’s surface or just below, and gently support the child in the water, or alternatively, if the child is old enough, they should encourage the independence of the baby in the water and allow the baby to hold on to them.

Parental involvement in the child’s lesson is fundamentally important.  The education provided by the instructor in correcting submersion techniques and providing guidelines for activities is paramount to a child’s progression, and allows the parent themselves to become a teacher outside of the structured lesson environment.

The full benefits of a swim lesson are acquired through active participation in lessons and listening to instructor’s guidelines for activities.  An enthusiasm for all the swim lesson activities is essential… and in most cases requires the parent getting wet! While most classes don’t require you to be able to swim, young children learn from what their parents do, so demonstration is wonderful tool and hastens the learning process.  When submerging or getting wet, facial expressions and tone of voice can provide the child with much-needed confidence.  Being positive about going under the water lets the child know that it is ok to submerge, and a parent’s resistance to such activities along with behaviour such as wiping eyes after surfacing should be avoided.

Instructors will facilitate activities through the parents and as such, positive reinforcement of the child through praise given at all stages is an important role of the parent.  Children love attention from their parents, and their confidence in the water will flourish naturally with praise.  It is important to remember that every child learns at their own pace.  Learning to swim is not a race in itself, so comparisons made with others in a class or efforts made to rush the learn-to swim process often hinder the child’s swim development.

The role of a parent in swim lessons for a child of the under 3 age group is much more than just getting in the water with the child.  It involves the parent playing an active part in their child’s aquatic learning and education, as well as a respect for an understanding of the water.

This article was taken from swim-files 2011 written by Julie Ham