Does your baby howl during bathtime like she somehow understands the tragedy of Zayn leaving One Direction?
Does she grip onto your shoulder in the shower, her eyes wide with terror and fingernails digging into your neck until they draw blood?
Do you wonder whether swimming school is going to help, or hinder, your water-bothered baby?
Are you scared she will never – ever – be able to swim?
Take some comfort in the fact that I have been in your shoes (or, rather, in your flip-flops on the side of the swimming pool.)
With my firstborn, I remember being gob-smacked that my child didn’t like the water. I mean, for God’s sake, she is an Australian. She should’ve been born with gills and Thorpedo-sized feet. But no, my Aussie baby was an exception to the rule. She did not tolerate water.
Today, my daughter is three and a half and just went for her very first official swimming lesson. My six-month old son is already more accomplished in the pool than she is (although, I must admit with great disappointment, that he too is not exactly super keen on the experience). Along my journey I’ve learned a few things about surviving swimming, trips to the beach, and bathtime that I thought you might find helpful.
Let go of your pride.
Yep, let it go. This is NOT about you. It might feel like everyone is looking at you when your baby is that baby crying in the swimming pool, but the truth is, no one really cares. And if they do, it’s not because they’re judging you. It’s because they’re glad that on this day, at this time, it is not their kid that people are staring at. If your baby is scared of the water, it is no reflection on you as a parent. Would you judge someone who’s kid didn’t like chickpeas? Probably not. So why judge yourself when your kid doesn’t like getting wet.
Trust your gut.
It is so hard to listen to people who enroll their children into swimschool when they are six-months old and wax lyrical about how “fabulous” it is that their children are budding swimmers. Everyone seems to talk about “getting them started early”, but at what price? If your child is laid-back, relaxed, and happy enough in the bath, then fair enough! Go gangbusters. But if your baby shows signs of distress and/or physical discomfort (my daughter got repeated ear infections, and then had water issues with her Grommets) then hold back….It’s OK…. Follow your instincts and trust that they will get the hang of swimming eventually, rather than pushing them until they develop a genuine phobia.
Gently does it.
Washing my daughter’s hair in the bath used to be torture. Like waxing at home, it was painful and never felt like it was worth the effort. We eventually managed the only way we could – we would bribe her with jellybeans to get the job done. Three years down the line and she’ll let us wash her hair without sugar-laden bribes, but it has been a long, slow road to get to this place. It’s also taken us three years of pool trips as a family to finally get her into a swim class. There have been tears and tantrums along the way, but we’ve been as gentle as we can be. OK, sometimes we’ve lost our tempers – we are human – and I’ve once dunked her underwater because I was sure it would convince her it wasn’t SO bad (epic, epic mistake), but here we are. Our daughter is in swimming class and she didn’t lose her shit. She was nowhere near as competent as the other kids in the pool, but this brings me to point 4.
Don’t compare your children.
This lesson is an important one for us all, whether we’re talking about swimming, walking, reading, eating, playing the didgeridoo, whatever. Do not compare your children. It is singularly the biggest lesson I need to learn in parenthood. I understand it in theory, but in reality it is so hard to practice. I just keep on trying!!
Exposure is key.
While it may feel like you’re ruining your weekends dragging your unwilling child to the aquatic centre, have faith. All the instructors tell me that regular exposure – at the beach, pool, bath, shower etc – is important. If the pool is really getting you down, then don’t push it. Stick to the bath or (as we did) the bucket. Eventually, things will start looking up.
Get the timing right
I decided that the 9.30am swimclass for my little 6month old would be perfect. He could have his early morning nap, wake up refreshed, have a quick bite to eat and be in a great mood for the water. But my child’s routine changed and he dropped his early morning nap. Suddenly, the swimclass was on at the exact time he should have been sleeping. Uh oh! If your baby’s schedule changes, contact your school; they might let you change if there are spots in another class!
Feel it hot, hot, hot
After your swimming class, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get your baby warm. I can’t stand my son’s wailing in the communal change room when I strip him down and the shock of the cool air turns his little lips turn blue. So instead, I just wrap him up into a warm towel or two, then bundle him straight into the car and change him at home where it’s not so cold. *Note – this works for me because I live 2mins from the pool. Totally feel your pain if you’re not so lucky!
I don’t know where I would be without the humble Arrowroot biscuit. There have been times when I have had to exit the pool mid-class because I just couldn’t cope with my child’s crying, and the Arrowroot has been my own personal lifesaver.
Practice with a colander
A good way to get bubs familiar with having water on her face without totally freaking her out is to use a colander and “shower” her. Count to three, slowly, then say something like “here we go” and quickly cover her face with water. You can start slow; maybe shower a bath toy first while she looks on?
Listen to Dori
When all seems hopeless, don’t lose faith. Remember Dori’s immortal words, and JUST KEEP SWIMMING!
Bribing my son with an Arrowroot biccie before swimming class begins.