Conquering the swimming pool

. September 25, 2012.


When my youngest daughter was a toddler, we took a swimming class together.

She looked so cute in her ruffled pink swimsuit with little purple sharks. During the car ride to the pool, she chatted excitedly about learning to swim. That is, until she saw the pool.
No way was she getting in without a lot of tears. It took most of the class to coax her into letting me carry her into the pool. I didn’t even need to hold her. She maintained a death grip around my neck with her little arms the entire time. She also kept up a chant of “I want to go home” in my ear. 

Did we blow bubbles in the water together, like the cover of the brochure? No way. Did she doggie paddle a few inches away and then come back, excited about her new-found skill? Nope. Did she happily hang on to a floatie while I pulled her around the pool? Yeah, right.

She didn’t learn to swim that day, or for several years after. She was perfectly happy to splash in the blow-up kidding pool in the backyard or run through the sprinkler. She had no interest in big-girl swimming. That was okay by me, so I backed off on getting her in the water past her knees.

As it turns out, being patient was just the right thing to do. While some kids do indeed take to water like little ducks, some just don’t. Whether due to nerves, fear or a combination, some children will not go near the water. But swimming is an important skill for children to master for safety’s sake – according to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under age 14. 

With summer upon us, complete with pool parties and lake trips, it’s more important than ever to provide children with swimming skills. It doesn’t have to be a tearful journey, however. In addition to towels, goggles and swimsuits, many children need an extra helping of patience from their parents in order to swim. Forget the old-fashioned – and potentially cruel and dangerous – method of throwing the kids in the water and having them figure it out. Whether through classes, coaches or just common sense, any kid can learn how to swim.

eorge Leatherman, the aquatics director for the Hancock County chapter of the American Red Cross, says the biggest hurdle many children face is putting their faces in the water. He suggested buying an inexpensive pair of goggles for the child to wear.

“Maybe you have a toy under the water they can see, and then it becomes exciting and fun instead of scary,” he says. “Once kids can break through putting their faces in the water, the arms and legs come together and they can learn to swim.”

Parents know if their children will learn better from them or someone else. Even Leatherman doesn’t teach his small children how to swim, because they see him as Daddy and not as an instructor. The Red Cross offers swimming classes every summer in Findlay and Hancock County. For more information, visit Leatherman also offers classes separately — for more information on Leatherman’s lessons, visit

You really need to go at the kid’s pace,” says Leatherman. “You just keep trying. But you don’t want to shove it down their throats, or else they won’t want to get in the water at all.”
We kept trying with my youngest daughter. Eventually, she ventured further and further on her own. Once we joined a local pool and were there every day, she gained enough confidence to leave the side of the pool and join in the fun. Now, she never wants to go home.