Yes, you heard me correctly, water safety is not learning to swim, or at least not ‘just’ swimming lessons. Time and again when I say that we need to teach water safety to young children I see heads nodding in agreement, “Yes! All kids need swimming lessons!” True, swimming lessons are an absolutely crucial element for keeping kids safe in the water throughout their lives, but teaching water safety is different and it can, and should, be taught much earlier than swimming.
So what is water safety and how should we teach it? Think about cars. We don’t hand the keys to a one-year old and send them to the store for milk. We start with buckling them into the car seat every single time we get in the car. When they start walking we say ‘stop and look both ways!‘ every single time we cross the street. As they get older we talk them through the rules, usually prompted by their questions: Q: ‘Why are you driving so slowly?‘ A: ‘It’s raining hard and I don’t want to slide into another car’. Those endless questions may drive you nuts sometimes, but it’s how kids learn AND kids love rules! Rules make kids feel safe, secure and loved. Rules teach kids how to navigate life safely.
By the time your teenager gets their driving permit (and your hair turns immediately white), they have had almost 16 years of lessons in car safety before they actually learn how to operate the car. Water requires the same positive, repetitive and age-appropriate approach. Start with your baby when you put them in the bath, “I’ll always stay near you when you are in the water”. When they can walk, “Always tell me when you are going near water”. Teach your children to self-regulate their behavior and by the time you hand them the keys (i.e. swimming lessons, sending them off to camp or pool parties), they will know how to act safely. Don’t just hand them the keys to the Porsche!