Building trust in the water
I'm all about building trust between a parent and child in the water. To me, that's the most important part of early swimming. For a baby or child, there are enough uncertainties in a new environment like a swimming pool - they need their parent to be someone they can rely on. When we start doing things to the child rather than with them in the pool (such as dunking them beneath the water), that relationship can start to get eroded - the child begins to lose that trust, and starts to become wary.
But what does that mean for the child and their learn to swim journey? If we never dunk them beneath the water, how do they learn to swim? The cultural norm when it comes to baby swimming is for conditioned submersions, but it is perfectly possible to have a child who can learn to swim without ever having been put beneath the water by an adult.
The key thing here is choice. Your job as a parent in the water is to show your child how much you love the pool - to get your face wet, to duck beneath the surface, to teach them that you enjoy being surrounded by water. Your job is to let your child take the lead and to foster that trusting relationship - to be reliable and consistent and to avoid doing anything that could frighten your child or put them off.
Your job is not to keep your child from submerging beneath the water at all costs!
There are opportunities within a swimming lesson when going beneath the water is a natural consequence of something your child has decided to do. If he jumps into a pool, he will get water on his face, and he will go beneath the water. If he lets go of the side, he will go beneath the water until he's strong enough to swim on top. Your job as a parent is to teach him that going beneath the water is a good thing. Allowing your child to go beneath the water is a natural part of swimming - it instills confidence, and it builds that trust - they learn that if they decide to take a risk and jump in, they will get their faces wet, and their parent will bring them calmly back up to the surface.
What does that actually look like at the pool? It could mean resisting the urge to catch your toddler so he doesn't get water on his face when he jumps in, but instead gathering him up calmly and slowly from under the water and telling him how proud you were of his splashy jump. It could mean encouraging your child to hold the side, standing a little way away, and waiting....and waiting....and waiting to see whether your child is ready to let go and swim to you. It could mean staying amongst the splash that another child is making in the pool without moving away, and showing your baby that you don't mind it when water comes your way. We give our children a choice - we let them take the lead. If they jump in and don't enjoy the feeling of the water on their face, they can choose not to repeat the experience straight away - but it would be very rare for a child to be so put off by a jump in (particularly in a positive, happy environment) that they never choose to do it again.
So as much as adult led submersion can erode trust and confidence, baby led submersion can build it up - and create a child who is happy and confident in the water and learns to swim more quickly.