If you have a baby or toddler who cries in class, or is anxious and distressed at entering the pool, or even if you are thinking about attending your first class and wondering what to do if your baby gets upset, then I’m writing this wee blog for you. I’m writing this as a Merbabies swim teacher but I also teach on dry land! Through my range of Early Years Work I teach over 150 babies and toddlers each week and I can assure you, they typically all cry in classes at some point, be it on land or pool! Mums and Dads may feel embarrassed, harassed, guilty, overwhelmed, frustrated and above all concern for their child when this is going on and the urge to take flight and leave a class is very strong.
We at Merbabies would like to reassure you that there is no need to leave our class due to crying or loud grumbles. Babies are very sensitive to our own emotions and doing anything new as a parent can be quite unnerving. We appreciate swimming is especially daunting as you need to deal with changing rooms and major sensory issues like volume increase and temperature changes. We always recommend a nice cuddle and couple of reassuring minutes before entering the pool, even if you’re running late.
As babies feel our anxious tensions, our toddlers observe our behaviours and often mimic them, we would encourage you to pop on a brave face. Maybe have a wee wash or submersion of your own face, lots of smiles and enjoyment, and setting a positive example of being in the water.
Sometimes however, no matter how calm or confident you maybe in the water your little one doesn’t feel the same way and you may feel that no amount of reassurance will help. You may start to worry that you are disrupting the class by upsetting other swimmers or causing annoyance to the teacher but let us reassure you this is not the case. We are ALL parents, and we all understand.
If your little one is crying or distressed by entering the pool don’t look around at anyone else, maintain good reassuring eye contact with your little one, smiles of encouragement all the way! Keep your movements slow, gentle and water minimal, no pouring water over the head or wee splashes up the body.
For babies; They are likely to respond positively to the sound of your voice so try to shut out the other noise of the pool by speaking softly into their ear or if they are very young trying a ‘shushh, shushh, shushh’ into the ear, this can help soothe them as your heart beat did in the womb. (babies have a dominant ear so try both sides for a response) Hold your baby in a cradle arms, maintaining eye contact along with your reassuring sounds. You may find joining in the welcome song in the group will work as a distraction to baby, the rhyme of the song is deliberately written to gain babies attention, swaying motions and sensory distractions like lights in the pool may capture babies naturally inquisitive nature and bring them into a calmer state.
For Toddlers and Pre-school children; often making their way into a big expanse of water, in a strange place with unfamiliar faces is the biggest hurdle to get past. We are happy for them to sit on steps or pool side safely with you by their side, watching what is happening in the pool. We always use toys and sensory distractions in class so they are most welcome to hold a toy or snuggle a chiffon if the water is a problem for them at the stage. You don’t need to splash them or try to get them wet if they are refusing to enter the pool, allow them to come to terms with the new environment first and build on the water confidence as the time passes.
If they have come into the water but don’t want to take part in the class, or if you feel moving away from the group activities is better for you that’s ok too. Your teacher will come and speak with you again once the welcome song is done and other swimmers are busy with their first activity.
It may feel like a life time to you, but in reality it’s not, keep them engaged with the water, allow them to play with a wash mitt or watering can, encourage these interactions with the water to be lead by them. They want to pour water on you or maybe just sit and play on the steps with feet in that’s ok and to be encouraged.
You are likely to find that with each fun activity they see their fellow Merbabies enjoy and with each little visit from your teacher your little one will want to join in. Your Teacher won’t push them to join in just offer gentle encouragement. Merbabies teachers practice an infant lead teaching scheme, developing confidence and a positive relationship with the water is by far the most important aim in our classes. This is a really solid foundation for children to learn to swim from and is the most effective way of teaching.
Our ethos has a child lead approach to learning to swim; Learn through Play Teach with Love, as such we want our babies and children to foster trust in us, so in turn we can build their water confidence and ultimately their enjoyment of swimming.
We also give the advice that consistency is key and that by coming each week and getting your child familiar with the environment, they will always start to feel more comfortable and less distressed as things become more familiar.