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Bullying at the Pool

September 19, 2014

I know there is more than one way to teach a child to swim.

However, there are some swim lesson programs, I’ve been observing for years which cause me to cringe every time I see them.  Their techniques simply involve letting go of babies on top of the water and allowing them to sink underwater when they don’t lay still.

I cringe because the child’s motivation to lie still on top of the water is the threat of not breathing.   And I’m sad because these babies are repeatedly crying and choking in swim lessons…an activity that should be fun for them.  I’ve seen these lessons in online videos.

I get it that their well-meaning parents and teachers are simply trying to protect these babies from drowning.  I don’t believe there are any villains here.

And let’s face it…it’s impressive to see a baby float so long, but do we care about what occurred to achieve this long float?  Does the desire to accomplish this skill so quickly in a toddler, justify the means?

I have seen two news programs about these controversial swim lessons.  You know what?  The babies were always crying in the pool.  Do “Sink or Float” methods cause any long-term emotional dysfunction?

Here is the question I’ve been pondering for years.  Are we bullying our very youngest children at the pool with the threat of air deprivation, or is this a legitimate technique to accomplish a lifesaving goal?

If it’s a legitimate way to teach people to survive in the water, why don’t we use this kind of swim lesson on older non-swimmers?  Why don’t swim teachers use “Lie still if you want to breathe” on adults or even school age kids?

I suggest to you that adults and older children would not put up with this type of swim lesson.  They would protect themselves from the teacher by not coming back to the second lesson.

Our babies can’t do that.  They can’t run away and they can’t tell you how they feel.  They can only cry if they manage to get enough air before sinking back underwater.

I applaud any program that promotes water safety for babies and saves lives.  But, with all the recent attention to not tolerating bullies in the schools, I wonder if we aren’t condoning bullying of our babies at the pools?

I have friends who have participated in this program and their children never mastered how to lay still.  They were too upset.  I know some of the babies do lie still, but surely we can figure out a more gentle way for our babies to survive in a swimming pool?  Let’s work on it together.  Contact me with your ideas.

Jan Emler