The Gentle Parenting Approach to Baby Swimming Lessons and Rethinking “Sink or Swim Training”

Kaitlin Gardner’s advice on the gentle parenting approach to infant and baby swimming lessons will help you select the best option for your child’s first swimming experience.

Rethinking “Sink or Swim” - The Gentle Parenting Guide to Swimming Lessons

Sink or Swim Training Can Lead to Trauma

If you practice gentle parenting or attachment parenting, you know the importance of the bond you’ve developed with your little one.  The “sink or swim” method probably doesn’t align with the principles of trust you’ve ensured in your child thus far.

How does your child feel when the one person they depend upon tosses them into the water to fend for themselves?

What do they think when they come up sputtering and choking while parents laugh and tell them not to be a baby?

It’s a disconnect to say the least.

And at the worst, it could lead to lifelong trauma.

How to Teach a Baby to Swim

If you feel qualified to teach your little one how to swim, by all means, do so! This is yet another bonding experience for you and your child, and you’re the person they trust most in their own little world.

But if you don’t feel up to the task or if your child (like many kids) takes direction from someone else better than you, swimming lessons with a trained professional is probably the ideal solution.

While your child’s swimming instructor probably won’t throw them into the deep end to fend for themselves, there’s much to consider when you let someone else teach your child to swim.

A parent-child class is often the surest way to a successful introduction to the pool for your child, giving both the mom (or dad) and baby an opportunity to bond in the warm water of an indoor or outdoor swimming pool.

Reassure Every Step of the Way

If you decide on a mommy and me-type of swimming class, the first thing you should do is take a look at how the class is structured.

Will you be asked to separate from your baby or child… handing them off to anyone else?

Your child’s first experience in a pool should be a parent-child one, from the first moment in the pool to the last.

Plan to arrive early in order to spend some time on the pool deck. This will allow your child time to get used to the sensory stimulation coming at them from all directions. The same goes for an indoor pool where there is the unfamiliar smell of chlorine, the feel of the humidity on their skin, and the sounds of voices echoing off the walls.

If your child is relaxed around the pool, they’ll have an easier time entering and being in the pool. Curiosity – not fear – is the goal.

Be Prepared

For a baby or toddler, spend some time in the water together before the first day of swimming lessons. A water-safe baby carrier is ideal for immersing your little one in the water, while keeping the safety of being attached to mama the entire time.

Plan your visit to coincide with a time of day when your child is not typically napping or eating. Try to make sure that all “business” is taken care of before you go.

Baby needs a secure swim diaper and swim suit bottoms, both of which should have elastic leg openings. Pack a couple of spares, just in case. A soft, organic cotton hooded towel will ensure a comfy exit.

If your child is a little older, you’ll have more flexible windows of time, but keep in mind the times of day when they are generally the happiest and try to avoid peak sun hours.

Check the Pool Temperature

Because small children have such a high surface area to body weight ratio, they can get too cold—and too hot—very easily. Overly hot baths, and of course hot tubs, are out of the question for infants, babies, and toddlers, as are overly cold bodies of water.

A pool temperature between 78 – 84 degrees will ensure a smooth transition and ultimate comfort.

Follow Your Child’s Cues

Some swim instructors encourage kids to get their faces in the water from day one. Your little one may love it, but for some children, this is a deal breaker.

Some adults swim their whole lives without intentionally putting their face in the water. Make it fun, and be open to what the instructor says, but don’t insist if your child is truly afraid.

The same goes for swimming lessons as a whole… many kids take to the water right away. Others may need to ease into it over a series of weeks or months.

Keep the First Swim Short and Sweet

For young babies, 20 minutes in the water is plenty. Your toddler may want to stay anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Always follow your child’s cues.

It is far better to leave them wanting more, than struggle with a child who has reached their limit for being comfortable in the water before the class ends.

Ensuring a physically and emotionally safe and relaxed experience for your baby or young child’s first experience in the swimming pool will set the stage for a long, satisfying relationship with the water.

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