I teach swim lessons. No, not the kind you’re thinking of. I teach Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) Self-Rescue swim lessons for kids. Sounds scary, right? To me the scarier thing is that drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death in children one to four years of age.
When my daughter was four months old, I began researching the best way to introduce her to the water and found Infant Swimming Resource (ISR). Unfortunately, the closest instructor was three hours away. A few months later, I was studying to become an instructor. I watched my master instructor work with my seven-month-old from the deck and found myself holding my breath whenever she would go underwater. She learned to float but she was not very happy about it. In fact, she would hold her forearms up and shake her little fists while floating. She also did this sometimes when being buckled into her car seat, but there was no way I was going to sacrifice her safety for her happiness. Now she loves the water.
It wasn’t until after beginning to teach ISR that I realized how significantly my own water experiences affected my efforts years later as an adult. Despite many lessons as a child all I ever learned was to doggie-paddle. When I was 21, I wanted to do a triathlon and after months of dedicated water guzzling and some guidance from the triathlon club I finally had the rhythm. As I exhaled into the water my mantra was, “relax-2-3, breathe, relax-2-3, breathe.” If I were to begin thinking about the fact that I couldn’t breathe as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, fear would strike.
My fear stemmed from getting dunked in the lake by my best friend’s brother, pushed in the deep end by my older cousin and getting into trouble while being too brave during a group swim lesson. I vaguely remember all these experiences but my body definitely remembered how it felt. While learning to swim I would feel my heart rate rise with my need for air, followed by quicker strokes and kicks, and inevitably ending with water up my nose. I absolutely despise getting water up my nose.
As an ISR instructor I am reminded every day of how capable, resilient and unique our children are. I have taught hundreds of lessons to children ranging from six months to nine years old with all different experience levels, attention spans and feelings about the water. Some are so excited at the mere gleam of the water they can hardly stand it. Others simply want nothing to do with it. Whether it’s a chubby six-month-old or a sassy seven-year-old, nothing compares to seeing a child confidently roll face up into a float while calmly resting and breathing. Even after four years of teaching, EVERY time I see a student do this independently for the first time I raise both arms in the air in triumph and we celebrate! That is the purpose: comfort through skill. The student, parents and I are a water safety team and this is a victory!
The ability to stay calm and know how to rest and breathe on top of the water is the single most important foundation a child could have in becoming a water lover. Whether it’s swimming or life, I think we can all grasp the importance of learning how to keep calm and breathe.