How to help your children feel more confident when swimming this summer
As studies reveal that many kids aren't learning to swim when they should be, Lisa Salmon finds out how parents can encourage their youngsters to feel more confident in water
Swimming and having fun in water is one of life's joys - but it can also be an essential lifesaving skill, especially as drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death in children.
Yet, despite 95% of parents with kids aged under 12 believing swimming is a key life skill for youngsters, more than half (59%) worry their child isn't confident in the water.
Furthermore, research by Sport England has found that one in four children can't swim 25m unaided by the time they leave primary school. Further data shows more than a quarter of parents take their children to the pool just once every six months or less, with 10% going less than once a year or never.
Swimming also provides lots of health benefits. It helps keep heart and lungs healthy, improves strength and flexibility, increases stamina and even improves balance and posture.
It can work wonders for boosting their confidence and opens the door to a range of other activities, including kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, surfing, triathlon and yachting.
Clearly, there are a wealth of reasons to help children get more water confident - and the younger the better.
To encourage parents to take the plunge and get their kids enjoying the water, Katie Towner, head of Learn to Swim at Swim England, has the following tips to help improve children's water confidence...
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
1. Show them your confidence
You can help give your child confidence in the water by showing you feel comfortable too. If you look like you're happy and enjoying swimming, they're much more likely to do so too. Speak to your local leisure provider to find adult learn-to-swim lessons near you, or visit the Swim Ireland Club Finder (www.swimireland.ie/membership/find-a-club).
2. Blow bubbles under the water
A great place to start is blowing bubbles under the water. This will improve your child's confidence in putting their head into the water and establish aquatic breathing. They're probably used to splashing in the bath, which makes it even more accessible and fun. Start by progressively placing the mouth, then the nose, then the whole face in the water. Encourage them to breathe out and not inhale the water though.
3. Rocket push-offs
A rocket push-off, also known as a push and glide, is a simple fun move that helps kids practise a streamlined position, which is an essential skill when learning any of the four swim strokes.
To do it, children can start with either their feet on the floor with their knees bent, or feet flat against the pool wall, holding on to the wall with one hand. Then they need to take a big breath and put their face in the water, stretch both hands out in front of them and at the same time push off with their feet and straighten out their legs, holding that position for as long as possible.
To stop, they should simply push down on the water with their hands and lift their head, and at the same time bring their knees up to their chest before putting their feet flat on the floor.
Push and glides can be introduced once the child is proficient in regaining an upright position. They can be practised with the use of flotation equipment until the child is able to float independently. And be sure to make the practicing fun, with plenty of encouragement.
4. Practise floating like a starfish
"Getting your child to relax and float on their back in the water like a starfish is something we always recommend parents try with their little ones," says Towner. Knowing they can float on their back gives them confidence to take to the water, as they can rest for a while. The star float is the first step in learning vital water safety skills.
5. Swim at least once a week
Swimming at least once a week from a young age is not only a fun activity, but it helps children get used to being around the water and improve their movement and swimming skills.
6. Take them to a family fun swim session
Check out sessions at your local pool to help your kids have fun and improve their confidence while learning some essential swimming skills. Swim Ireland, which caters to Northern Ireland, offers a Learn to Swim Programme which is delivered through structured play, ensuring all lessons are well organised with clear learning outcomes whilst engaging children in fun activities.
Visit www.swimireland.ie/get-swimming for more information.