Creating safer behaviour around water is imperative from the first time your child is exposed to water. If you create positive habits around water each time you are in and around water, you are empowering your child to be safer. No one is ‘safe’ around water or ‘drown’ proof, however we can empower swimmers to make good choices.
Educating parents on behaviour management around water brings me so much joy. It isn’t about stopping the kids from being independent, but to enable them to be independent in a safer way.
Creating Safer habits at the pool
Prior to your swim time sit your infant/ child on the side of the pool, they can practice kicking their legs. Parent enters water first and Their child shows parent their kicking, then when their parent asks the swimmer rolls onto their tummy and slides into the water safely.
As the child gets older make sure you acknowledge you are ready for them to enter the water. ‘ No mums not ready’, ‘ok I’m ready’. Get them to ask if you are ready ‘mum are you ready?’ Learn to play the game well.
Safer habits at the beach
Transferring the safer behaviour around water from the pool to the beach is really simple.
At the pool we teach the kids to sit and wait to do a safe entry into the pool, but what does this look like at the beach or river?
When you get to the beach sit down and get the kids to watch the water. What is out there?
Are there waves 🌊?
Are there boats 🚤?
Are there surfers 🏄♂️?
Are there people fishing?
Are there animals 🐕 🐬 ?
Is there a current?
For the older kids are there RIPs in forming?
Are there sandbars?
Is there a reef?
Water safety at the beach or river
By creating this routine your child will become safer, you get a chance to set up , and then safely swim in the ocean together with active supervision. This is invaluable to buy yourself time until you are ready to swim, but as they get older knowing where to enter when the currents are stronger so they know where to exit, and to identify RIPS.
Action and Reaction
What is action and reaction?
The action is when a mini swimmer wants to be independent and let go; the reaction is how you want them to react… if you let go of mum, then you need to catch mum again / if you let go of the wall , then catch the wall again / give them a positive reaction to do, rather than you picking them up all the time.
Cues to go
Each swimmer learns differently and when you are working with your swimmer with your cue to go as they get older. You can
- count 1,2,3 under
- Show visual fingers 1,2,3
- Get your older toddler to ask if you are ready
- Engage active eye contact and acknowledge you are ready
Positive behaviour strategies
We have heard many parents saying ‘oh that’s naughty’, ‘I’ll ring your dad’, ‘you won’t have xyz’ so many times. Everyone has different parenting expectations now, and in the 21 plus years I have been teaching swimming, parenting has changed immensely.
Escalate the words you use (not just that’s naughty)
- Good, acceptable
- Not ok
- Not acceptable
- Not safe
An example of behaviour that is not acceptable could be a child has hit another person.
A few examples of behaviour that is not safe could be jumping in when parent or teacher not ready, pushing someone off a platform.
Asking the kids a question by jumping off the platform and I wasn’t ready, was that safe? Prompts them to think about what they have been doing, and they stop and think about their action and what the correct action should be.
We use platforms at many swim schools and sometimes referring to the platform as a footpath and the pool as the road, the younger swimmers know not to run across the road as this is not safe. By referring to something they are familiar with, they know what behaviour is acceptable.
Positive behaviour management in action
Sometimes we need to look at how the child and parent are engaging to be able to find a positive behaviour strategy. One swimmer a few years ago loved it when his mum yelled at him, he got naughtier! He was about 18 months old. Over the 12 week term, we started him on two 10 minute classes per week and when his behaviour changed it was time to go home, we changed mums behaviour by getting her to whisper to him what she wanted him to do (show mum paddling ) and focus on what we wanted him to do instead of him being naughty. At the end of the term the young swimmer was doing one 30 minute lesson, not 2 and he knew if he wasn’t behaving as we expected it was time to go home. 1.5 years down the track and the different was astonishing and this little swimmer was excelling and swimming 3-5m independently and both mum and child were amazing.
Each swimmer is different and Ballina Swim School work with all scenarios and dynamics. Talk to your instructor if you need to.
Sometimes it is best for the parent to ‘go to the toilet’, ‘go get a coffee’ to remove themselves from their swimmer who maybe attention seeking.
Integrating Safety skills
Integrate safety skills into each time you go swimming. Practice turning and catching the wall, turning and catching parent, falling in and catching parent, monkey along the wall, jumping from the bottom and catch the wall, swimming /rolling onto back float/ rolling to swim again.
Ask your swimmers what they would do if they fall into water, if they get tired , by empowering them with the knowledge of what to do in the event of an incident they can make good choices in responding and staying safe.
Creating safer behaviour
Remember we are not trying to take away a child’s independence, it is about enabling them to be independent in a safe way.
At a young age infants know to check if someone is watching whether they keep going or stop. When you are in the pool don’t let your swimmer demonstrating a behaviour that you don’t want without having a chat with them. Otherwise that behaviour is deemed to be acceptable.
We work with so many swimmers and want to have a positive outcome for everyone.
We all have emotional days for what lever reason- bad days, tired days, hungry, sad, happy, stressed out, and our little swimmers can’t always express how they feel.
If your swimmer has listened well, changed their behaviour acknowledge this positive change