As we all start to think about Summer holidays, I thought I'd put together some ideas for teaching your child how to jump safely into the swimming pool.
Let your baby take the lead
If you pull your child towards you and into the water, you offer him or her a false sense of security and he doesn't feel that sense of balance as he leans forwards. One of the most important lessons you can teach a child is that when she jumps off the edge of a swimming pool, or leans forwards over the water, the result is that she'll enter the water (and more than likely go under the surface). A child who understands this cause and effect will start to learn a respect for the water from a young age. Instead of pulling your child forwards, wait...and wait...and wait for your child to voluntarily come into the water to you.
What goes up; must come down!
Lots of parents instinctively catch their child, either under the ribs or holding their hands, to prevent them from going beneath the water, This can be uncomfortable or even painful, causing an impact to the ribcage or straining little arms and shoulders. You teach your child a lot by allowing them to go beneath the water, even just a little way, when they jump in. If that puts your child off jumping for a little bit it's no big deal! Allowing a child to submerge themselves as a result of jumping or flopping into the pool is very, very different from submerging him or her yourself for a "swim".
"Is it safe?"
Ask your toddler or child to make sure that the water is safe before they come in - is it too deep? Too shallow? Is there space for them to jump, or are people in the way? If you always make the judgement, they don't have the opportunity to learn.
Jump into a space
If your child is used to jumping to you, they lose some of that ability to discern whether there is a space for them to jump into. An older child jumping on you can be very painful, particularly when you don't expect it, so encourage your toddler or older child to jump into the space next to where you are standing, rather than always directly towards you.
Ten toes over the edge
Those toes provide the grip your child needs to avoid slipping and banging her shins on the edge of the pool, so make it a rule that they only jump when their toes are curled over the edge of the pool.
The number of times I've had to shout "WALK!" as a lifeguard and as a swimming teacher! Your child should walk carefully around the edge of the pool, and shouldn't be allowed to run away from you. If they can't be trusted yet on poolside, keep them in the water and carry them when you get out until they're a little older.
Have your child practice a range of entries to the pool - jumps, sitting jumps, swivel entries, and climbing safely down the steps. They should be able to get in using a number of different methods.
Teach your child to use their hands to "walk" along the rail of the pool towards a safe exit - it's such an important water safety skill
If your child's only experience of exiting a pool is being plonked on the side, they miss out on learning to climb for themselves. Try putting a hand under their feet to give them a boost onto the side (taking care not to be too enthusiastic so as not to bump their faces or tummies on the poolside!)
Where to go?
We want toddlers and beginner swimmers to turn around and head back to the wall they jumped in from, rather than making their merry way across the width of the swimming pool, so teach this from an early age, turning 180 degrees and encouraging them to "Hold on...hold on...hold on!"
You need to be able to stop your child from jumping in, just in case there's a dangerous situation they could be entering, so teaching them to wait until you give a signal is a great skill, and can be combined with encouraging them to judge whether the pool is safe to enter.
Let your child enjoy jumping in, most of all! Jumping in is a brilliant skill, and the one that's always most improved following the Summer holidays!