Princess Ivana shares a surprising benefit of teaching your young child to swim at an early age, as well as some tips to help toddlers overcome their fear of the water.
“If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you.” —Bruce Lee
Splash! Dive! Dog paddle! It’s no secret that most kids love to swim. (In fact, getting them out of the pool sometimes takes nothing short of a Herculean parental effort!) But did you know that getting your children comfortable in the water at an early age isn’t only fun, it can actually make kids smarter? Recent research from Griffith Institute in Australia shows that kids who start swimming early reach their developmental milestones earlier too. These include basic visual motor skills (like cutting paper and drawing shapes) and extend into more complex skills like language, math, writing, and understanding directions.
The earlier a child begins swimming and the longer that child takes lessons, the more lasting and beneficial the results.
“The toddler years are the perfect time to begin swimming,” says Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, who has worked with children for over twenty years and has a master’s in education. She is also a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, and coauthor of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year . “Researchers observed that before children can even count or express themselves in language, they respond to the cue, ‘One, two, three, go!’ when it comes to jumping into the water on three, or kicking to the count of ten. The physical link of thought, language, and action creates a body-wise understanding of the complex skills young children need to develop for pre-school and school.”
There’s just one potential problem: Convincing your little one to take the plunge can be easier said than done. New experiences are often uncomfortable, and coaxing an unhappy, frightened toddler into the water for the first time may be a challenge.
“My son hated swimming at first. It took a number of try-try-agains and bucket loads of patience, but now Alessio is a little dolphin, proudly swimming across the skinny end of the pool like he has just won an Olympic gold medal.”
So, the scene is set: It’s a warm summer day and you’re ready to jump in the pool. But it’s your toddler’s first time swimming, and he is screaming with crocodile tears running down his face. He’s afraid of the water, afraid of the bigness of the pool—a thousand times bigger than his little tub. And the way he sees the water swallow you up to your neck is not that reassuring. How do you ease his fears? Here are five of Ivana’s tips:
Talk him/her through the experience. When you’re only a few feet tall, a lot of things—including a big blue pool of water—can be scary. Being assured that nothing bad is going to happen to you can go a long way toward easing your child’s fears.
“Don’t just ask your child to jump into the pool—tell her what’s going to happen after she does. Say, ‘Mommy is going to be right next to you the whole time. I will keep you safe and won’t let go of you.’”
Give him a choice. Even though your child may not be able to articulate the concept, feeling like he has been backed into a corner can exacerbate his fear. You know everything will be fine, but he doesn’t. Don’t make jumping into the water an ultimatum.
“Say, ‘You can come into the pool with Mommy or just sit on the edge and get your feet wet,’” Ivana recommends. “Let your toddler dip his toes until he is used to the water. Then invite him in again.”
Have fun. Monkey see, monkey do definitely applies when it comes to having fun in the pool. Show your child how much you enjoy being in the water (even if you have to pretend).
“If she is sitting on the side of the pool, let her splash you,” instructs Ivana. “Splashing Mommy is usually a toddler favorite. It always gets them laughing—and that’s half the battle. It’s hard to laugh and hold onto fear at the same time.”
Reward courage. Facing your fears is a big deal whether you’re two years old or fifty years old. So when your child finally takes his first brave step into the water, reward his courage.
“Be sure to praise him,” says Ivana. “Gently encourage him to explore the new sensations. Splash and play. Keep the game going until he wants to get out. Do your best to make the whole experience a happy memory—one that he will want to do again.”
Sign up for a local swimming program. Like most activities, swimming is more fun for youngsters when they’re having fun with friends. Plus, you’ll feel most confident about your child’s safety in the water when you know she’s learning valuable skills from a knowledgeable instructor.
“Many communities offer swimming programs for children through youth centers, Red Cross, YMCA, and fitness centers,” Ivana shares. “Find out what’s available in your area and get splashing!”
“Keep in mind that the benefits of swimming are good for the whole family, so don’t sit on the sidelines once your youngster has become comfortable in the water,” Ivana concludes. “Jump in with your children! Water is 1,000 times denser than air, so you get a better workout in the same amount of time, burn more calories, and protect your joints thanks to water’s buoyancy. In the kind of record heat many of us are feeling, the cool splash of water is not only a super workout, but refreshing for body and soul. What’s not to like?
Ivana is the author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.
While she’s a modern-day princess, she comes from modest means and met her Italian Prince Charming (if you’re curious, he’s Adriano Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire) while on scholarship at Pepperdine. She didn’t wait for his kiss to save her, though—using her master’s degree in education, she forged a career of her own as a digital strategy consultant.
For more information, please visit www.princessivana.com .