Keeping baby safe
It's important to be sure that there is one certified instructor for every 10 babies in the class, as well as a lifeguard on duty at all times. But even with those individuals around, it's crucial that you never leave your baby's side during class, and not simply rely on flotation devices to keep her safe. "Drowning can happen in seconds and may not always include a cry for help," explains Denise Dowd, M.D., emergency room physician at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri. "Constant supervision is key to preventing a drowning accident, especially 'touch supervision,' an approach that calls for a 1:1 ratio of adults to young children that ensures they are within arm's reach of each other."
You also want to avoid submerging your baby's head at this point. Although she will learn to blow bubbles above water, she won't properly learn to hold her breath until she's older.
Don't be discouraged by tears
Don't be worried if your baby doesn't love the class at first -- she'll get there. "Most kids go through a three-phase adjustment: hating it, tolerating it and then loving it," says Hill. "Each child is different in how quickly he progresses through these phases, but I have never seen a child not reach the final phase, unless, of course, his mom or dad pulled him out during phase one and didn't give it a chance."
Hill says that it's best to remove yourself from the vicinity of the pool if your child gets really upset, but within a couple of classes you'll see him actually enjoying the lessons. "When the kids are crying at first, it is most difficult on the parents and they feel tempted to pull the child out -- maybe because they feel they are doing emotional harm or physical damage to the child by making them suffer through, or sometimes because they're just embarrassed in front of the other parents when they have the only child crying, but don't be tempted to pull your child out!"
Getting ready at home
Hill recommends preparing your baby for the pool in the tub first, and even after lessons have started, you can continue teaching some basic lessons during bath time. "From the very first baths as an infant, parents should say '1-2-3' and pour small cups of water over the baby's head," she explains. "Eventually, the volume can increase. It follows Pavlov's law, where the dog associates the verbal cue of the bell with dinnertime. It won't take long for a child to associate 1-2-3 with what is coming next."
Hill also says that 2-to 4-year-olds are ready to learn how to float on their backs in the bathtub. "It's a great way to rinse the shampoo out of the hair!" she says.
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