This past Sunday, 25th July 2021 was World Drowning Prevention Day. This issue was recognised as an international problem by the United Nations. According to The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), drowning has taken 2.5 Million lives around the world in the last decade. Many of these tragedies involved children, and most were preventable.

Today, we unpack the importance of swimming lessons for your children to prevent drowning, with Sarah Groenewald, Head Coach and Instructor at Sarah’s Swim Academy as well as parents who have shared their experiences with taking their children for swimming lessons.

It is never too late nor too early to learn how to swim. “It is important to teach your child to swim at the earliest possible age. Children can learn how to swim from six months old. Learning to swim is a process that takes time at any age. The sooner your child begins swimming lessons, the sooner they will become water safe,’’ says Groenewald.

A common question amongst parents is whether swimming is really important other than the purpose of just swimming. Groenewald shares that there’s more that your child gains from swimming. ‘’Swimming is important in the development of a child’s physical abilities. It assists with coordination, gross motor skills, strength, and balance.’’ She continues to elaborate that just like any sport, swimming gives off endorphins which result in better emotional and psychological well-being. In learning a new skill, a child builds confidence in oneself. Where the skill is challenging, such as swimming, the child learns to overcome fear and become more resilient. 

Reasons From Three Parents Who Enrolled Their Children For Swimming Lessons; 

‘’For both safety and technique competence. Following a long lockdown swimming break, my daughter needed to regain her swimming skills and stamina back.’’- Alu Sithebe

’Drowning is our greatest fear, and to ensure that they respect water, and learn the basics to be safe.’’Alexandra Shardlow & Alistair Mcalpine

’I wanted my children to learn how to swim primarily for safety reasons and secondly for the associated health benefits in keeping active. ‘’ – Anonymous  

You might be a parent wondering how you can get your child over the fear of swimming, and it may seem nearly impossible to get them to learn this new skill. Groenewald shares the following steps to get your child over the fear of swimming.

How to Get Your Child Over The Fear Of Swimming

Step 1: Sit your child on the side of a pool. 

Step 2: Ask your child to touch the water and demonstrate to them that water is safe and won’t hurt them. You can also encourage them to splash the water to show them that water can be fun. 

Step 3: Encourage your child to blow bubbles into the water using his or her mouth. You can do this by getting into the water with them and showing them how to blow bubbles. 

Step 4: Make swimming fun by singing songs and playing games with your child. Start by throwing sinking toys into the shallow end of the water and ask your child to reach down to retrieve them. As they become more comfortable with the water, you can gradually throw toys into deeper areas of the pool. Keep doing this until the child is comfortable with putting their head completely under water to get the toys. 

Step 5: Back-floating is one of the most important skills a child can learn when it comes to swimming. This can save your child’s life. It is a difficult skill to master. Start by placing your left hand at the back of your child’s head while using the right hand to tilt their head back. If your child is nervous, then let them rest the back of their head on your shoulder. Your shoulder should be submerged so that the child is lying in a streamlined position with their ears in the water. As they begin to become comfortable with back-floating, remove your hand so that they are floating without assistance. Once they are comfortable with floating on their back, try adding in basic kicking skills while you give them support by holding their head. 

Step 6: Stand inside the pool near the wall and have your child push off the wall to you. On successfully reaching you, roll them over into a back float. Take progressive steps backward until they are using basic kicking and arm movements to reach you. They should learn to turn over onto their backs on their own. Gradually your child will gain more confidence in the water. 

Step 7: Enrol them in swimming lessons to master back-floats and become water safe. From there they can learn the strokes and they will be able to swim confidently in a pool on their own. 

Now that you know how to get your child over the fear of swimming, there’s also swimming survival skills that your child might need one day. Groenewald shared the following with us:

Swimming Survival Skills
  • Never Swim Alone – Even strong swimmers should not be left unsupervised. 
  • Entry – Ensure that you teach your child to always climb into a pool backwards. Once inside the pool, they should always hold onto the wall. 
  • Hold On To Side – They should hold on to the side when climbing out of the pool. 
  • Float – on back until help arrives – This allows them to breathe and shout for help. 
  • Deep Water – On stepping or jumping into water that is so deep it covers their head, teach them to return to the surface and float or swim to the side.

How Do You Know When Someone Is Drowning
  • Head low in the water with their mouth at water level. 
  • Head tilted back with mouth open. 
  • Hair over eyes. 
  • Hyperventilating or gasping.
  • Eyes are usually still without any movement. 
  • A drowning person is almost always unable to call for help.

In the unfortunate event that your child might be drowning, Groenewald advised that you take the following steps:

Firstly, get someone to call an ambulance. If the victim is conscious and close to the side, you can use the following to pull them safely to the side: 

  • Pool net pole 
  • Pool noodle 
  • Broomstick 
  • Floatation device 
  • Strong swimmer 

‘’If they are unconscious then it’s important that either a boat or strong swimmer goes to them with a floatation device and pulls them out of the water. Once safely out of the water, turn the person’s head to the side allowing any excess water to drain out the mouth and nose. Turn their head back to the centre and perform basic First Aid/CPR until medics arrive,’’ elaborates Groenewald. 

Encouragement From Parents Who Enrolled Their Children For Swimming Lessons;

‘’It is never too late to start and/or improve!’’ – Alu Sithebe

‘’It is by far the most important extramural to provide the basics and peace of mind to parents.’’ – Alexandra Shardlow & Alistair Mcalpine

‘’It is imperative to teach children how to swim so that they are water safe and they are adequately equipped to avoid accidents.’’ – Anonymous 

As we conclude Groenewald advises the following DON’Ts when swimming:

  • Avoid large meals before swimming. 
  • Do not run around the swimming pool. 
  • Never swim alone. 
  • Do not dive headfirst into murky water or the shallow end. 
  • Never hold onto each other in the pool. 
  • Never swim during a bad lighting storm. 

We hope you apply these tips and make use of the advice when giving your kids swimming lessons. 

Sarah Groenewald is Head Coach and Instructor at Sarah’s Swim Academy. 

If you are looking for something to wear on the poolside while teaching and/or observing your children checkout Olwethu Leshabane’s favourite Gugu Intimates Swimsuit at the shop.