We spoke with Josh Scott, a parent and owner of local swim school, Swim SRQ, to discuss common myths about swim lessons and water safety. Even though summer is winding down, water safety is a year-round priority for families in Florida.
When should parents start their children in swim lessons?
The short answer is, as soon as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting swimming lessons around the age of one. At SwimSRQ, we start lessons at 4 months old! We are in a unique position because we have a 2.5 year old son, Wyatt, so we can actually speak to our clients and make recommendations as parents as well as swim instructors. We got Wyatt in the water at 2 months old, and under water (his first submersion) at 3 months old.
Most parents are surprised when we tell them that kids can be exposed to water that early. Children come from water, and naturally enjoy it. Any fear or hesitation is a learned behavior. By getting kids in the water early, the process of learning how to swim becomes SO much easier.
Children actually have a reflex to keep their mouth shut when they go under water, but this reflex goes away at about 6 months of age.
The other suggestion I tell parents is to teach their kids to float on their backs before they can walk. When a child learns how to walk, they develop a fear of falling backwards. We made this mistake with Wyatt, and back floating took longer than it should have because we waited too long.
What are some of the myths or misconceptions parents have regarding swim safety and teaching their children to swim?
There are many, but here are the top ones:
Flotation Devices: My child can swim with their puddle jumper/floaties/water wings etc. These devices promote false confidence and an unnatural body position that make learning to swim much more difficult. When swimming, you want to be horizontal in the water (floating), and flotation devices hold kids up vertically. If they were to be vertical without the flotation device on, they would sink. We made the choice as parents to never put our son in any sort of flotation device, and we are happy we went this route.
I need to wait until 3 years old (or later) to start swimming lessons. Kids can start lessons (and swim!) much earlier than most parents think. The sooner you expose your child to water and get them comfortable, the easier it will be to teach them how to swim. At SwimSRQ, we start lessons at 4 months old!
I don’t need a pool fence because I am always watching my children around the pool. Kids are fast, and as a society, we are more distracted than ever. Pool fences are a mandatory layer of protection that every house with a pool should have.
What things can parents do to prevent accidents or drowning at home or at a public pool?
We partner with an organization called, Stop Drowning Now, that says it best when they emphasize the 3 layers of protection:
- Safer Kids
- Safer Water
- Safer Response
We like to say that no one is ever “water safe”. Even an olympic swimmer can have an accident and drown. What we can do is reduce risk by taking steps and utilizing layers of protection.
- Enroll your child in swimming lessons
- Make sure you have a pool fence at your home pool
- Designate a “water watcher” when kids are in the water swimming
- Never swim alone
- Put your phone away while at the pool to eliminate distractions
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Drowning – Most people do not realize that drowning is silent. Many of us have it in our heads that a drowning incident involves thrashing around yelling for help like you might see in a movie. The unfortunate truth is that drowning is silent and happens quickly. That is why it is so important to stay vigilant around the pool.
Why are swim lessons so important?
Every child NEEDS to learn how to swim. Living in Florida, we are surrounded by water and we have beautiful weather year round. Learning to swim is first and foremost about safety and survival. Pools, lakes, boating, beaches, retention ponds….there are many forms of water that are around us and our kids move quickly! Proper swimming lessons expose children to water and teach survival skills so they can help themselves if they get in a dicey situation. Even if a child is still learning how to “swim”, the fact that they have been exposed to the water via swim lessons can buy them precious seconds and avoid panic if they fall in the water.
Beyond the safety aspect, being a stronger swimmer improves quality of life in so many ways! There have been studies showing that swimming lessons increase both cognitive and physical capacities in children by as much as 60%!
Swimming is also a skill you can do for life! Many of our instructors still swim on masters teams and compete. It is a sport that can stay with you as you age, and also a sport that makes you better at other activities and more healthy.
How can parents get their children swimming quickly?
Swimming is all about body position. There is a lot that goes into it, but if I could boil it down to the most important concept it is that kids need to be horizontal in the water on both their front and back. When they achieve this body position, they will float, and can learn to propel themselves through the water.
This is why flotation devices can be so dangerous and detrimental (floaties, puddle jumpers, etc) because they promote improper body position and a false sense of confidence in the water.
Beyond that, kids need consistent exposure. We offer 2 week intensives where a child takes 8 lessons over a 2 week period with the goal of rapid improvement. What I advise parents to do if they want their child to learn quickly is to do an intensive(s) until they have achieved the desired result, and then move into a weekly lesson for consistency and repetition.
Repetition and Consistency are HUGE for young children. A big mistake I see is parents taking 9-10 months off of swim lessons (ie. only doing them in the summer) which causes skill regression over the course of the year. The older a child gets, the less of an issue this is, but if it is possible to do a weekly lesson throughout the course of the year, your child will see huge benefits!
How can you get a child to swim who is afraid of the water?
Whenever a child is afraid of the water, it is usually one of two things:
- Fear of Separation
- Lack of Control
Seldom is a child truly afraid of the water, unless there was a traumatic event such as falling in a pool or an aggressive lesson experience.
The first step is identifying what the real issue is and go from there. The reason we keep many kids under 3 years of age with their parents is due to separation issues. We allow the child to feel safe with their parent, and then they can learn the skills they need in a much more relaxed manner, which also leads to learning quickly.
If there was a traumatic experience, this is a harder and longer process, but definitely achievable. The child needs to regain their love for the water and establish confidence that they can control themselves in water. Small steps and consistent exposure are key, without “pushing” too hard. Overcoming a traumatic experience takes time and patience, but it is 100% possible.
The best way to overcome fear is to never let it develop in the first place. Early and consistent exposure to water helps immensely. No child is born fearful of the water. Fear is a learned behavior. Remember, kids come from water and they naturally love it, so it is best to get them in early and often while they are developing cognitively.
What is ISR and do you teach this program?
ISR stands for Infant Swimming Resource and, no, we do not teach ISR. We DO teach survival swimming and self rescue, but we do it in a very different way than ISR instructors.
In general, we are very opposed to any form of aggressive teaching. Our philosophy is to try to make kids love the water, which results in faster improvement and a skill that will stick with them for life.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions/topics we get, and ISR is a very divisive topic in the learn to swim industry. Every ISR instructor I have met is a wonderful person who is in the industry for the right reasons and wants to help children become water safe. Their methodology of swim-float-swim is great, and we teach a similar technique, however the way we get to the end result is very different.
This is one of the most important topics I like to educate parents on, and the parent needs to be honest with themself regarding several questions. What are the goals? How old is their child? What is their child’s personality?
There are many factors to consider. Unfortunately, we get several students each month from other more “aggressive” programs, and the result is a child that will not even put their face in the water. We have to work with these kids to help them learn to love the water again. When talking to their parents, the number one thing I hear them say is that “I wish I would have known more about the process, and options available to me”.
Parents should do their research on whatever swimming program they sign up for. There is no one size fits all program or methodology, and the needs and personality of the individual child need to be taken into consideration.
Being a parent of a 2.5 year old AND the owner of a swim school gives me a unique perspective on this. We briefly considered ISR for our son, but decided against it. He has loved the water from a very early age and we did not want to do anything to jeopardize that. For reference, he was propelling himself and able to get out of the pool on his own by about 16 months, swimming across our backyard pool by 20 months, and what I would call a fully independent swimmer by 24 months (being able to swim all over a pool by himself without any help from mom and dad). Side note: You can see Wyatt in action on SwimSRQ’s instagram page 🙂
Simply being aware can prevent so many accidents and make your pool and kids safer. Most people don’t understand that drowning is silent, and happens quickly. At SwimSRQ, our goal is to make water safety top of mind for all parents, and give their kids the skills they need to be safer in and around water!