We have all heard it, parent’s excitedly exclaiming that their baby is a “water baby.” What does that mean exactly? From what I understand, when a parent says this, they mean that their baby loves the water. And that is exciting, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we want our babies and children to love the water? To not fear the water, so that they can enjoy it? Isn’t there so much value to water play? It’s been proven to be therapeutic, reducing stress and anxiety, creating a low gravity environment for rehabilitation for patients recovering from injuries. Sure, water is amazing, I will be the first to tell you.
I grew up deep sea fishing in the Gulf Stream for Mahi Mahi with my dad. Snorkeling as soon as a mask would fit my face. Scuba diving as soon as I was old enough. Certified as a Lifeguard at 15, even though I couldn’t work until I was 16. Earning my WSI (Water Safety Instruction) at 16 so I could teach swim lessons. Then I joined the Navy, and I quickly realized that even adults (in the Navy) couldn’t swim. I helped a lot of my shipmates learn how to swim, and how to float. (We had a requirement to float in our full uniform with steel toe boots for 40 min).
After my time serving as a Naval Officer, as I was transitioning to become a civilian, I learned of this program that teaches children how to rollback and float. As soon as my child was old enough, I enrolled him in lessons. You see, we are a family of surfers, fisherman, and scuba divers. I knew my baby needed to know how to save himself in the water before we taught him it was a fun and safe place to play. As soon as he could stand, I had him standing on an ironing board … training for the surfboard.
But what is the flip side of teaching your children that water is safe at a young age? As an Engineer, I understand risk analysis. You see, everything you do in life involves risk, and you can mitigate that risk, or you can accept it. So, let’s talk about the risk of having a “water baby.”
If you have taught your baby that water is safe, they are most likely going to be drawn to the water, thinking it is fun and safe. If you taught them to jump in from the side of the pool, and you are there to catch them every time. You have taught them to jump into the pool unskilled. What happens when you are not there? To them, this is fun, and “magic hands” will be there to get them every time.
What about blowing bubbles? We all hear parents talking about this…. "I am teaching my baby to love the water, put their face in, and blow bubbles." But let’s think about what is happening physically when your child blows bubbles in the water. They are exhaling all their air and blowing it out of their body. Air that was in their lungs and keeps them buoyant. Blowing bubbles causes an immediate need for air and they are less buoyant, making it difficult for them to float.
Am I saying that we should teach our children to fear the water? Not at all, to the contrary. We feel that our culture needs to change. Instead of teaching your child that water is fun and safe first. teach them how to survive in it. What if they fall into a body of water alone? As the water rises on their body, can they inhale, close their mouths, keep their lungs full of air (and more buoyant) roll onto their back and maintain a float until rescued? If they can not do this, then we should NOT be teaching them to jump in.
Think about it. We approach almost every other aspect of parenting in this manner. We teach our children that the stove is HOT! Don’t touch it! But at some point, we would love for them to be self-sufficient and learn how to cook. Once they are old enough, we will show them how to safely use the oven, this is a life skill. We need to view children and water in the same manner.
Stay tuned for Part 2, from a different perspective.....