Aside from reading, one thing I really wanted to pass on to my kids was my love of being in the water. Pool, beach, bathtub—I feel like I’m in my element whenever I’m immersed in water. I may be a klutz on land, but in the water, I can hold my own.
I could hardly wait for my daughter Raine to reach the sixth-month mark so I could take her to the village pool with me. And wouldn’t you know—she took to the water like, well, a duck takes to the water. I can’t wait till she turns four, so she can take formal swimming class (the American Academy of Pediatrics says that kids will be developmentally ready starting at age 4—meaning that’s the time they can actually coordinate their movements and muscles to do the strokes).
One thing I haven’t been able to do with Raine though is make her put her face in or under the water. No surprise there—she doesn’t like water on her face when taking a bath. I spoke with Ria Mackay, head of Aqualogic Co. swim school about this, and she gave some great tips (I’ll be applying them with the soon-to-arrive second daughter Breeze as well).
- It’s important that babies feel comfortable in water—and one of the best places to start is in their bath. You can do this even with newborns (Ria says that babies from 0 to 6 months still have that hold-your-breath reflex when their faces get wet). Have a verbal cue, e.g. “One, two, three” then gently pour water over your baby’s head on three. Always start from the back of the head before gradually moving up to the face.
- The temperature of the water greatly affects babies’ reactions to it. Try to maintain it at 30°C. When they’re older, you can gradually make the water colder (this also applies to pool water—sometimes kids freak out because of the sudden cold water temp).
- If you have a tub (or an inflatable pool that you fit in), try floating with your baby (make sure he can control his head already). Allow him to float on his back or tummy, without immersing his head (hold his chin up if he’s on tummy; and support his body).
- Make pouring water over the head fun—in Aqualogic’s classes, they use colorful toys and even colanders for that waterfall effect when pouring water. Use your own colander, or squeeze out a sponge. Don’t be shy to accompany all the action with dramatic spiels or dialogues (or in my case, out-of-tune but enthusiastic singing).
- And, in my case, the most a-ha! tip of them all—when your child is old enough (able to sit up well), let her take a shower with you. Put her on a no-slip bath mat on your clean shower floor and give her some toys to play with while you bathe. This way she gets used to the sensation of water flowing on her. Of course this is a little too late for Raine, but I intend to do this with Breeze. I just hope she doesn’t crawl off mid-bath!
- For older kids, you could give them more control by having them pour water on themselves. Or let them pour on you, and say it’s your turn to pour on them (sneaky tactic!).
In the pool
If it’s accessible, you can also take your baby to the pool. Opinions vary on what age you can start taking babies to a public pool; but most recommend starting at six months. I guess this has something to do with their head control. Ria warns that the sheer size of the pool may overwhelm your baby, so don’t instantly think that he hates the water when you go in.
Ria and other experts don’t recommend using floatation devices like arm floats and vests. I think their main concern is the false sense of security that these provide—with your kid happily floating, it’s easier for you to be distracted. It also may give the kids a false sense of security. I remember Raine walking right off the pool steps before I got her arm floats on—and promptly sinking. Fortunately I was right beside her, so I got to pull her out immediately. But think of what could have happened otherwise.
Ria also says that using floaters makes it harder for the kids to learn how to swim properly, since the tendency is to float vertically (legs, butt and back down rather than floating on the surface), with the head out of the water. I’m still iffy on this one, since I use arm floats on Raine, and yes, she usually is vertical, and she doesn’t get her head in, but she’s gradually learning to kick horizontally. For me the delay in proper form is worth it, seeing the joy on Raine’s face as she kicks around the pool independently. My sisters and I used arm floats as kids, and we eventually learned to swim. Perhaps not competitively, but fair enough (at least enough to get us third place in the one and only relay triathlon we joined together—I swam the 1.5km in open sea!). Another swim instructor also says that having the arm floats can help some children build confidence as they learn to swim. I’ll still have to see how Raine and I can work this one out.
A swim class would also be great, though until the age of 4, most classes are actually just sessions to help your baby feel more comfortable in water and —depending on what school you go to—learn basic survival skills, such as how to maneuver to the side of the pool, in case they fall in (Ria says this can be taught at 16 to 20 months of age). It’s also a great time to socialize with other kids (and meet other parents! A great thing for the socially deprived SAHMs like me). Note though, that these classes will require you or some caregiver to be with the baby at all times.
When you do get to the pool, some useful tips I picked up:
- If your kid isn’t potty trained yet, make sure she wears swim diapers (they’re specially designed not to expand to monstrous proportions when wet, unlike regular diapers). They could either be disposable or reusable. I once read that a baby’s pee is actually negligible in any good pool—the chlorine or chemical concoctions will annihilate any baby pee. It’s the embarrassing floaters that you have to worry about!
- Unless you’re indoors, don’t forget the sunblock!
- Watch your baby’s cues. It could take some time before he acclimatizes to the water, but if he’s been crying the past 45 minutes, I think it’s time to call it a day. Also be aware when your baby gets cold—which can happen quickly. Blue lips, fingers and toes, plus shivering, are good indications of feeling cold.
- Make sure she’s been properly fed, not sleepy or unwell before you get in. Trust me—it makes a big difference.
- Babies can pick up your vibes, so if you’re uncomfortable in water, so will they be. Ria says you have to pretend to be enthusiastic at the very least, just so your baby will be. Try emoting in front of a mirror—practice excitement and happiness and your gung-ho I-can’t-wait-to-get-into-the-water facial expression. In case you don’t learn how to swim, you may at least have a future as an actor.
- Emphasize safety. Make sure there is always one adult per kid under age 4 within reach. Teach your kids never to run around the pool or jump in without a capable adult. Don’t leave toys floating in the pool—kids might try to get them. And yes, never depend on floatation devices to keep them safe.
I remember our early swimming days with Raine. It takes us about 30 minutes to get ready, 20 minutes to walk to the club, another 30 minutes to get dressed after our swim and a final 20 minutes to get back—all for about 15 to 20 minutes in the pool. And since it was almost always just the two of us (never had a nanny), I had to figure out how to get us both washed, dried and dressed in the club’s shower room (solution: when she wasn’t standing on her own yet, bathe and dress her first, stash her in the stroller, rinse off quickly and take a bath at home; when she was walking, make her sit on the bench and ‘watch’ our bag).
Was it worth the hassle? Definitely. Some of our best times together are our pool dates. Now how I’m going to handle both Raine and Breeze is something I have to plan out. But I’m sure we’ll all have a splashingly good time.