Not two, not three, one. One Facebook scroll, one check on your baby who just ate sand, one quick text to a friend. That’s all it takes for your child to go from being within your reach, within your line of vision, to being underwater and unable to breathe. I know that’s hard to hear. But believe me, it’s much harder to experience. For us, this happened while we were on our yearly vacation at a lake. We were nearing the end of the week and had gotten more comfortable with our (almost) two-year-old standing at the edge of the water without wearing a life vest. This wasn’t the norm, but like I said, we had gotten comfortable, and there were easily five adults within 5-10 feet of him.
Then something unexpected happened, a somewhat ominous stranger unexpectedly swam over to our section and quickly stole our attention. The danger of the water had taken second place to the possible danger of a stranger near our children. When I turned towards my son, he was gone. He went from ankle-deep water to water so deep that his outreaching fingertips weren’t even visible, all this happened within seconds and without him making a sound. If we hadn’t been at a lake where the water was clear, I wouldn’t have been able to see him at all, or possibly grab him as quickly as I did. Needless to say, he basically lived in his life vest for the rest of the week. The rest of my day was spent dealing with intermittent bouts of crying as the “what if” thoughts raced through my mind. I decided that day that he would be getting swimming lessons ASAP!
I was familiar with ISR (infant swimming resource) and knew it was one of the few swimming programs that had lessons designed for the very young, starting at 6 months. Now before you think I’m crazy, watch a video or two first. Babies and older children are all taught survival skills based on their level of development. For babies this means turning on their backs, learning how to rest, breathe, and float until help arrives. When age and ability advances, they learn how to swim underwater, when to turn over to float and breathe, and repeat the process until safety (side of the pool, or shore if possible) is reached. I also loved that ISR would be one on one. Our instructor was great. She was fun, creative, and just tough enough to get our strong-willed little guy to learn independence in the water.
Having witnessed these lessons before, I knew there could be tears and possible wailing involved. That’s not the case for all children–I’ve seen some that love it from beginning to end. Unlike some swim lessons, ISR teaches children to swim underwater. Sometimes that involves requiring a child to do things that scare him. My son was that child. He went from having no fear of the water (hence our scary experience) to being an expert at clinging to the instructor while sporting the biggest poochie lip you’ve ever seen. This was all in the beginning. In the end, he was swimming like a fish, floating, and knowing how far he could be underwater before needing to come up for air. Totally worth it!
Another reason I love ISR is because they incorporate unexpected life scenarios into their lessons. So for instance, on the last week of lessons the instructor will request that the child comes fully clothed for winter (coat, shoes, the works) and then will have the child fall into the pool (our instructor actually flipped our little fish over in the water) and will then have the child independently swim/float to safety. In my opinion, just preparing them for the expected is being ill-prepared. I wanted my son to have the skills to swim under various situations and less than optimal conditions. Think about it–we live in Florida, pool parties, beach days, vacations, it’s our way of life. At the same time, they all present plenty of opportunities for unexpected scenarios to play out.
I’m not writing this to push you to sign up for ISR. It worked great for us, but my hope is that you will take swim safety seriously and also look at it realistically, rather than ideally. Precautionary measures (fences, life vests, adult supervision) are great, and needed. But the only preventative measure that will always be there is your child’s ability to save himself. Please, whether it’s on your own, or through lessons, teach your little ones how to swim and float independently from you. It could save their lives.