Category Archives: Tips

Tips for Parenting

The Best Age to Start Swimming Lessons: Advice from a Veteran Teacher, Mom and Grandma

Swim Blog picI am often asked, “What is the best age for my child to start swim lessons?”  Typically, my answer is, “Not two,” as two year olds can be very uncooperative at times, but in reality the answer is very complex.  There are many factors to consider when determining when to enroll your child in formal lessons, but the most important thing is that your child does learn to swim.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) 10 people die of unintentional drowning per day.  The largest risk group is children ages 1 to 4.  Drowning is responsible for more deaths in this age group than any other cause except birth defects.  There are many factors that influence drowning risks, but one of the top factors is lack of swimming ability.  In fact, recent research has shown that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning not only for older children and adults, but also for this high risk group of children between the ages of 1 and 4.

While it seems to make sense to provide lessons for your child as soon as possible formal swim programs vary on the age at which they provide lessons for young children.  Most programs do not recommend formal lessons for children under 6 months of age, and even at this age skills learned will be limited due to limited developmental ability.  Of course if you are going to invest time and money into a formal swim class you will want to see your child make progress toward becoming an independent swimmer.  There are four main factors that determine how quickly children learn to swim independently; developmental level, natural ability, instruction (formal and informal) and opportunity to practice.  With these facts in mind, let’s look at some common considerations to think of as you consider the best timetable for your child.

What to consider:

  • Exposure to Water Environments-

In some areas water activities are common and plentiful and in others they are not.  In terms of safely, if you live in an area where your child has easy access to water, the younger you start lessons the better.  While there are swim schools that promise to “water proof” your child it is important to remember that no child is truly water safe.  I like the term, “water predictable” better.  When your child is water predictable you know how he or she will typically react in aquatic environments.  While no child, especially a very young child, should be left unattended around water, a child who has learned basic rules and skills and knows how to behave in water environments will typically behave in a more predictable manner.  Not only will the child know and understand what he or she can safely do to save him or herself, but parents, having seen their child in aquatic situations, will know how the child is likely to behave.  This can buy you the seconds or minutes needed to save your child if necessary.

Not only is the availability of water important in safety considerations, it is also important to consider in light of practice time.  One of the most important factors in how quickly children learn to swim is the availability of practice time.  Formal lessons are of little use if the child’s only time in the water is during the lesson.  Swim lessons should happen in conjunction with plenty of supervised water play time when skills can be practiced.

  • Time and Availability of Appropriate Lessons

Swim lessons may be taught by large swim schools, community programs, backyard swim programs as well as schools, day camp programs and preschools.  There are parent and child programs, one on one classes, as well as large group classes.  I will cover the pros and cons of these types of programs below, but the first thing you must determine is what is available in your area.  It is important to consider the goals in the program you are considering to make sure they match your personal goals for your child.  While traditional swim sessions run for about 8 to 10 days with lessons lasting 20 min. to a half hour, more intensive programs can run for many weeks meeting several days a week.  Part of your decision on when and where to enroll your child is if the program meets your schedule.  Children will make the best progress with consistent attendance in the program of your choice.  Choosing a program that fits your schedule well will help alleviate absences.

Typical Features of Various lesson types:

Private Swim School:

  • Main goal is to make a profit, however many are also quite passionate about their particular brand of swim instruction
  • Lessons may be available year round
  • Lesson are likely to be offered many times throughout the day
  • Teachers may have more experience, as this may be their main job, and typically need some sort of certification to teach
  • May be quite expensive
  • Methods may be quite different than other programs with a specific focus, such as “water safe” skills or swim team skill development
  • All ages are typically serviced, and some provide lessons for very young children

Community Programs:

  • Main goal is typically safety and as a service to the community
  • Lessons are typically only available during the summer months
  • Lesson times can be very rigid and limited
  • Teachers may be young and inexperienced, however there may be a few veterans; They will be required to have some sort of certification
  • Usually reasonably priced
  • Methods are usually standardized and developed by large organizations (such as the American Red Cross) teaching well researched skills and with practiced methodologies
  • While some may offer parent and child or preschool classes the focus is typically on courses for school aged children

Backyard Programs:

  • These programs vary from organized groups that facilitate small groupings in neighborhood pools, private instructors who come to your home or individuals who offer lessons in their own or others’ pools; Goals vary based on the group type.
  • Lessons typically only during summer months
  • Lesson times can be quite limited, however may be more flexible and adapted to individual needs.
  • Teacher experience varies greatly, be sure to ask what experience and training the teacher has had
  • Fees vary widely, from free and low cost community sponsored programs, to expensive private lessons

Private or Semi-Private Lessons:

  • Goals in these programs vary; Most useful for adults or older children looking to perfect strokes (Typically, young children and children just learning to swim do much better in a group, where they can see other students in their general age group performing the skills they are working on.)
  • Typically, lesson times are tailored to needs of students
  • Teacher experience varies; Be sure to ask about certifications and experience
  • Quite expensive

Preschool or Day Camp Programs:

  • Main goal of these programs is typically to provide lessons for children who may not otherwise have access to swim lessons because they attend all day preschool or day camp programs
  • Lessons typically take place during the regular school or day camp hours
  • Lesson can be offered in large classes, small groups or in private or semi-private groups
  • Teacher experience varies
  • May be part of the preschool or camp fees, or may be an extra fee
  • No standardized methods, however many states require teachers to hold a water safety certificate issued by a authorizing agency, such as the American Red Cross, with standardized procedures

Another factor to consider when looking at swim programs is practice time.  Does the facility offer time for children to practice?  Is there an open swim time?  Can they stay in the water after their lesson, or do they have to get out immediately after?  Remember, a key to how quickly children learn to swim independently is practice time.  If children have an opportunity to practice their skills in the same location as they receive instruction this is a real plus.

  • Child’s Skills and Temperament

While every child can and should learn to swim, some children are naturally more adept at an early age.  Some of the hundreds of children I have taught to swim include my 5 children and 10 of my 11 grandchildren (the youngest being too young for formal lessons).  While all have been quite proficient swimmers by about the age of 4 or 5, some reached that level of proficiency at a much earlier age.  While there have been some variations in the availability of practice time, the main difference has been natural ability and temperament.

Some children take to a body of water as if they are part fish.  Holding their breath, moving arms and legs, jumping into the water and navigating entries and exits are quickly mastered and all that is needed is the development of the ability to lift their head to breathe and instruction in formal strokes.  These children are easy and fun to teach to swim.  When these children take lessons as infants or preschoolers they often master in one day what it takes their less adept peers to learn in an entire session.  While it is important to teach these children safety rules and basic skills, sometimes those can be easily taught outside of formal lessons.  The most important thing with this kind of child is for parents to have clear rules about when the child can and cannot jump in and swim and enforce them.  While some of the skills these children possess can help save them, they may also be very brave and jump in to bodies of water unexpectedly.  Even very young children can and should be taught to ask and get permission before jumping in and “swimming” to others.  If you or your child need formal lessons to master these safety skills then do take advantage of this.

Blake Swims still

Click here for an example of a natural swimmer.  This is Blake, my grandson, who at just 2  could easily and naturally swim across the pool.

For other children, however, every individual skill is difficult and laborious.  They are not fond of water in the face, and instead of holding their breath their natural inclination may be to suck up water.  They can move their arms or legs in the water, but don’t ask for both at the same time.  Jumping in is a scary proposition, and all water entries and exits take a while to learn and adjust to.  These children will take much longer to master basic swim skills, and will probably require several sessions of lessons to feel comfortable in the water.  Generally, these fearful children are a lot less likely to jump into a body of water unexpectedly, however a fearful child is more likely to suck up water if accidentally submerged and drown within seconds vs. the minutes that may be afforded with effective breath-holding.  Often, the parent with the brave child is more apt to pursue early swim lessons, however in some ways the fearful child can benefit more.

Another important factor to consider in this area is how well your child adapts to and learns from others.  For very young children parent and child lessons are often available, however once the parent is not involved in the lessons children react differently to a swim teacher.  Generally, the more friendly the child is with the teacher the quicker he or she will learn.  This is why I generally advise that children not start lessons at the age of 2.  While there are exceptions, most 2 year olds are not friendly with new adults and are often not even cooperative with their own parents.  For this reason, most children do better starting at a younger age or starting when they are a bit older.

  • Parent Goals and Desire for Child

So, what are your goals for your child?  Are you looking for the next big Olympic medalist?  Is safety your big thing, or do you just want your kids to have a good time?  You will want to make sure that your goals match the type of lessons that you choose.  As you look for available resources keep this in mind; look for lessons that match what you believe is important.  Don’t be afraid to share your goals with the school or teacher.  It will help them to tailor what they teach to your child.  And, if the direction the lessons you chose ends up not fitting your needs, feel free to choose another program.  The most important thing is that you do teach your child to swim!

How do you set curfews?

One of the challenges with raising kids is that as they turn into teenagers their social life changes and they start to separate their identity from that of being your child to being their own person. It is our job, as parents, to allow and encourage this separation and growth. However, we must also factor in our responsibility to their safety. And safety includes physical as well as emotional protection. Part of the process of ensuring their safety is that we must be comfortable with the company they will keep, the activities they participate in, and when they come home. Each family will have to determine what activities are appropriate.

The issue that always comes up is curfew or when our child needs to be home. Many parents have a rigid approach and have a very inflexible rule. The problem with a strict and rigid rule is that life is composed of different activities and some of them do not fit into a rigid curfew rule.

In our family we NEVER had a set curfew. So what did we do to keep our kids safe? We talked to our kids about the particular activity they were participating in, who they were going to be with, and then we asked them for what they thought was a reasonable time for them to be home. We didn’t always agree with their time but we negotiated a reasonable time. There were even times when they would suggest midnight and we would counter with 11. If they countered with midnight we would often counter with 10:30. 😉 We also discussed the next day’s duties to determine if there was a reason to be home a bit earlier. When our daughters were going out on dates we would have the conversation with their escort so that all parties knew and understood our agreement.

Our children also knew that because this was an agreement with us that they had a responsibility to keep their end of our agreement. They also knew that to avoid negative consequences they had to notify us of any changes in activity, destination, people or the time expected home. In this manner we were able to evaluate their safety, with them, on an ongoing basis.

The final step of this process was that they were to check in with us when they came home. Even if we were asleep.

As our children got older (18+ and living with us) we still asked them to tell us where they were going and when they would be home. As adults they are no longer bound to us as children, but as courteous adults. We often get text messages updating us to their activities.

How will you set your curfews or limits?

Using FAB and reflective listening to communicate more effectively

FAB stands for Feel About Because.

Obviously immediate safety may preclude using this tool.

Children (and even adults) don’t always articulate their emotions correctly. The purpose of FAB is provide a consistent framework that is easy for kids to understand and use. The way that FAB works is that your offended child says I FEEL (Insert emotion) ABOUT (insert the reason or action) BECAUSE (insert WHY it upsets you). An example might sound like, “I feel angry about you taking Thomas the Train because I was setting up the track and was going to play with it.” In this manner your child has clearly expressed their emotion and defined the cause.

It is important to understand that as long as the child (or adult is following) uses this format that their feeling are valid. You cannot argue with how a person feels or their emotions.

Reflective Listening

At this point the offending child needs to respond. They cannot verbally attack or demean. They should reply in a way that acknowledges their sibling. Such as, “I understand you are angry because I took Thomas.” By doing this your second child is acknowledging that the first child is feeling angry because of their action and showing that they understand the problem.

The first child should then express what they want to happen, in a polite manner. An example might be, “I’d like to have Thomas back so I can play with him.”

The second child now has an opportunity to respond to the request. They can agree to give the toy back, play with it for an agreed upon duration, play together or ignore the first child.

If the offended child has not been satisfied it may become necessary to for the parent to get involved and play referee. The purpose is not to decide the fate of Thomas but to decide how the conflict can be resolved equitably. It is also your responsibility to verify that all steps have been taken. Often a child will come to me with a complaint and the first thing I ask is, “Did you use FAB?” The child returns to their squabble and they resolve the problem without further intervention.

The goal is to give your children a lifelong tool to communicate.

When this concept was first presented to my husband and me several years ago he thought it was silly. So one night he decided to show me how silly it was. I used FAB on a disagreement we had. He reflectively responded to me. I was blown away! He understood what I was upset about! He was even more flabbergasted when he saw how I responded and he was surprised that he understood my feelings better. The conflict was quickly resolved with no hurt feelings. We try to use this pattern to this day, and even as adults using this tool for 30+ years, we still slip-up.

As with any new tool it can seem more painful at first try but in the long run the time investment is more than paid back.

What experiences have you had with FAB?

What is your parenting style?

One thing that I think is really important for parents to do is to reflect on their views, values and personality to find out why they do what they do.  Research has shown that parents parent the way their parents did, unless a conscious effort is made for change (and it can be done.)  These tendencies are mixed with your individual personality traits and life experiences to make up your individual parenting style.  So, I came across a parenting style quiz on line at this site http://quiz.ivillage.com/parenting/tests/parent.htm .  It is not the most user friendly site as every time you move to a new page you get a pop up, but it does allow you to take the quiz on-line, it isn’t very long and it will give you your results immediately.  So, here is what I got:

Your Parenting Style:
Authoritative

This parenting style is often described as the “no-nonsense workaholic” who is best at “emergency-mode parenting” and providing discipline where it is needed. Too often, however, strong-willed children eventually rebel against this parenting style if the parent doesn’t learn to balance expressive warmth with the authoritative discipline.

Your parenting style is highly driven and task oriented, as opposed to relationship-centered. Relationship-centered people tend to focus on nurturing and caring for others; authoritative people tend to be more focused on “getting things done.” Although your authoritative parenting style may not be the most popular style, it typically produces respect and obedience from your children, at least until they become teenagers. At that point, there is a good chance that they will find ways to avoid your control. As long as you are consistent in the way you discipline your children and as long as you maintain strong personal values, your children will model your self-discipline and persistence, thus benefiting from this rather rigid parenting style. This style might not produce the results you hope it will, however, if you do not find ways to outwardly express your loving and caring emotions. Remember that your children’s self-esteem comes not only from their self-discipline but also from feelings of significance, love and acceptance they receive from their parents.

I know my kids would not be real surprised about this revelation.  They often accused me of being a control freak.  The thing that is important here, is that knowing this about myself I have been able to, as a parent, try to use the strengths of this parenting style to my advantage, while trying to make up for my weaknesses.  I had to learn to show more love and compassion for my kids, and learn to be a bit more flexible and spontaneous.  I can’t say I was always successful in this, but knowing my particular style has helped. I used this strength to help develop the organizational methods that I outline in my book.

To offset my tendencies my husband and I used a different mindset about our children’s activities. While many parents have the mindset that they do not allow their children to do anything ‘unless it helps them’ we had the mindset that unless it hurt them, and was a reasonable, safe and supervised activity, we let them participate. as a result our children had a wide range of experiences while learning to thrive under an organized system. The organization gave them a sense of security because they knew our expectations and limits.

Tools for Discipline

When children don’t behave our first reaction is to get mad.  But getting mad doesn’t help.

Years ago parents knew how to handle their children.  The prevailing wisdom was that if you spare the rod you would spoil the child.  So when many of today’s grandparents were children they felt the swift and firm consequence of their behavior with physical punishment.

Most experts now agree that strong physical punishment is neither advisable nor effective.  The problem is that today’s parents have not been given tools that are as swift, firm, speedy and as easy to execute, as a whipping was.  We have been told to use time out or to ground our children, but many parents have found time-out to be less than effective and have found that when they ground their child they ground themselves as well.

What people today  need are tools.  Parenting tools help parents guide their children’s behavior, keep parents in control and help alleviate responses that are impulse related, like hitting or yelling.

One tool that parents can use is to provide consequences for children’s behavior.  Often we think of consequences as punishments, but consequences can be good or bad.  A consequence for your son cleaning his room may be that he can watch his favorite show on TV.  A consequence for your daughter coming home late from her friend’s house may be that she has to come home a half hour earlier,or the length of time she was late, the next time.  Consequences that relate directly to their behavior teach children to shape their behavior to create the least discomfort or the highest reward.  Yelling at, or hitting your child, may control behavior, but it doesn’t teach children to manage their own behavior.