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Swimming star Brooke Hanson is an Olympic gold and silver medallist but first and foremost she is a mum who is passionate about swim safety.
Brooke says building water confidence in children begins with the parents.
“It’s important for us as parents to consider the various ways in which our children can find water environments challenging. Though water safety is always paramount and spoken about a lot, there tends to be less discussion around the physical issues many Aussie kids face at the beach or pool,” explains the 42-year-old ambassador for AUSTSWIM.
If your child is water-shy or doesn’t feel comfortable in the water, Brooke has some practical advice for boosting their confidence.
1. Swim safety is everything!
“As a mum of three children (Cooper, 11, Billy, seven, and Matilda, five) who love the water, weekly swimming lessons are essential. Swim safety is not only critical in terms of protecting children from potential harm, but also for equipping them with the skills needed to feel happy, confident and comfortable in a variety of water environments. Learning to swim is so important from the early stages of sensory exploration; getting familiar with water, basic development skills, and developing a sense of independence in a safe and supervised way,” says Brooke.
“Our children have missed many swimming lessons this year due to COVID, which makes swimming lessons even more of a priority now that swimming pools are continuing to reopen. As summer heats up, we will also see our little ones frequenting the water much more – and, with such, water risks will also increase.
“It’s important to remember that water safety begins with you as the parent. Ensure that you’re always within arm’s reach whenever your family is in, on or around water. Regardless of someone’s swimming ability, no person is ever drown-proof. Also, remember that young children are fascinated by and attracted to water. Recognise and/or eliminate potential water dangers around your home: fish ponds, bathtubs, wading or swimming pools, and ensure your pool-fence is legally compliant and always shut.
“Water is everywhere and it’s not always clear, clean and heated like in household environments. As parents, I also believe it’s key for us to educate both ourselves and our kids about water safety knowledge and personal survival skills for beaches, rivers and lakes, in addition to water environments within the home.
“I also make sure that – whenever I’m supervising kids in the pool – they have access to floating devices and kickboards so that if they do have any moments of self-doubt or anxiety, they can easily grab onto something safe and buoyant. These are great tools for kids learning to swim who might be scared to let go of edges or their parents.”
Former Olympic swimmer and mum-of-three, Brooke Hanson says water safety for children is essential.
2. Do water homework with your kids
“I truly believe in the importance of going beyond swimming lessons and being proactive with additional water play when it comes to building skills and confidence for kids in the water. Like anything with children’s development, kids need consistent reinforcement and repetition to ingrain, retain and build confidence in the skills they are learning.
“Following on from my kids’ swim lessons, I always continue to use songs, games and fun activities in my backyard pool, as well as the beach, creek, river, bath and shower, to solidify their learnings and continue building their water comfort and confidence. I like to call this ‘water homework’.
“Children learn a variety of skills in water, including floating, safe entries, breathing and movement and it’s always nice to continue to practice these whenever they’re in the water.”
3. Use keywords to create positive reinforcement
“Keywords when building water skills and confidence for kids can be great tools. Letting all family members know – including aunts, uncles, siblings and grandparents – is a good idea to ensure that everyone is aligned and delivering consistent messages.
“For example, keywords like ‘1,2,3’ or ‘Matilda, Ready, Go!’ can be super helpful when practising ducking under water and holding breath. You can also repeat and practice these keywords in the bath or shower.
“Other keywords such as ‘Paddle Kick, Paddle Kick’ when teaching swimming strokes, or ‘Safe, Safe’ when reminding kids to do safe water entries at the pool, lake or beach, can also be very useful for creating immediate and lasting impact. Using ‘Monkey, Monkey’ when a child is holding the edge of the pool and finding their way to the step or ladder, is another valuable and commonly used technique by AUSTSWIM teachers.
“These keywords should be used continuously over summer across all water environments to help reinforce safety and confidence messaging to your kids.”
Brooke says using repetitive key words like, ‘Paddle, Paddle, Kick’ will help to reinforce safety and confidence messaging to your kids.
4. Foster familiarity and fun with nursery rhymes and toys
“Nursery Rhymes including Humpty Dumpty and Ring a Ring o Rosie are also great techniques to use when educating kids about water safety and water play.
“Parents often talk about the difficulties and discomforts their kids face when first learning to duck under water or getting used to waves, and I always suggest using songs kids are familiar with to bring a sense of fun and familiarity to the process.
“Toys in the pool and bath can also be another fantastic way to get children ready for blowing bubbles and holding their breath. Ducking their favourite characters underwater with them or getting them to blow up inflatable toys or balloons will help to get them used to taking big breaths and holding breath for longer periods of time.”
5. Moisturise and wash skin before and after leaving the water
“For eczema sufferers, the EAA advises applying moisturiser immediately before and after swimming, as well as washing the skin clean straight after leaving the water. This is something I’ve found really useful in terms of reducing pain associated with water and skin sensitivities for both myself and my kids.
“My ultimate parent hack for making this process easy is Childs Farm’s 3 in 1 Swim, combined with their Baby Moisturiser. I use this product on myself and my three kids – Cooper, Billy and Matilda – whenever we jump in the pool, head to surf life saving or take a dip at our local beach or creek.
“The 3 in 1 Swim is super compact, lightweight and easy to chuck in your bag and whip out as soon as you need it. It functions as a shampoo, conditioner and body wash all in one, and is a great hassle-free hair-to-toe after swim skin and hair care solution, especially if you’re on the go! It saves me carrying loads of individual products around and gets the salt, sand and chlorine off our skin as we leave the water.”