Many parents are unaware of the potential they have in their own homes to help their children learn aquatic balance and begin their lifetime of swimming safely. Where in the home does this begin? The bathtub!
In Russia, studies have been done that show there is a very strong link to infant swimming and overall health and well being. They start the babies very young, 14 days, in “polyclinics” where the mom or dad is shown what to do with their babies at home. They start the routine with gentle massaging of the baby on land. Then, the baby is gently introduced to the bath, which is very full and very warm (90 – 95 degrees). It is very rare for a baby this young to cry or not enjoy this “swimming bath”. With a secure hold, the baby is allowed to move freely both on their back and their stomach. (Note: if your baby doesn’t seem to like this, make sure that the air around the bath is kept warm so the baby doesn’t feel the sharp contrast of warm water and cold air.)
It is recommended that the parent get into the water with the child on occasion to bond and relax and enjoy the water. Keep the time in the tub to around thirty minutes or less. Sway your baby back and forth on the back and the stomach (hold up chin with thumbs so they don’t put their face in accidentally). Sing songs and pour water over your baby, especially on their hands in their palms where they are most sensitive. Get your child used to having water poured on their head at an early age. It is OK to nurse or give a bottle to your baby while bathing.
Your child can benefit from the water at any age. Even though you may not have started your child in the tub this way, it is never too late to gain the “aquatic advantage”. If your child is small enough to lie down in the tub, they can practice their swimming in it. If you have a fearful child, remember that while most fear of the water is learned, sometimes a child around two or three years of age will become fearful of something (as a developmental step), and a lot of the time it is the water they become afraid of. This mostly happens to the child without an aquatic background, or one who has forgotten their aquatic experiences (the younger they are the faster they forget. Around age 5 or 6 they begin to remember from one season to the next).
What to do in the tub? Well, first of all, make sure safety is your first concern. If your child is old enough that you don’t need to hold them in the tub, be sure you keep a constant eye on them. Read a book, clip coupons, etc. while in the bathroom with your child in the tub. Bring your telephone into the bathroom so you won’t have to leave that room while your child is in the water. Constant supervision is a MUST around any water with young children. Never let them out of your sight and always be within an arms distance. Now that safety is covered, let your child play and have fun during their bath time. Don’t put soap into the water while your child is playing. Soapy water gets into the ear canal easier and can cause an ear infection. Wash up at the end.
To help a child get comfortable on their back (the lifesaving position); begin by filling tub just to the level that it will cover their ears while lying down on back. As they get accustomed to that, you can add more water so that they begin to float. You can put a mobile or some stickers on the ceiling to give them something to look at and give them a toy to hold and play with to distract them. Many children learn to relax to a certain song, so begin that routine (use the Water Safety Song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, etc.). They also like to listen to the water coming in the tub, so get them to lay down by telling them how cool it sounds under water. Make sure that every time your child has a bath “lesson” that they have lots of fun. If they are anxious in the water, you can help them by filling up the tub and having them walk across the tub (hold their hand at first). If more water scares them, put in a little more each time and they won’t notice. Keep a cup by the tub for pouring water over their head (if they’re not afraid) or into their palms, on their shoulders, etc. You can have them practice blowing bubbles in the cup, then progress to blowing them in the tub. Be sure to have them try things on both their front and their back to help them learn their aquatic balance.
If your child does well in the tub, they should do well when they are old enough to start individual swimming lessons, around age 2. Under age two, it is recommended that the parent be their water instructor. You can learn more by taking a parent/child class.