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One of the key components in quality relationships is trust. In this post we’ll have a look at the effects of trust and how it’s formed during the early years within the close relationship between the baby and its parents or other caregiver.

Relationships is one thing, that we can have with anyone but quality relationships is what makes the difference. Quality relationships is what buffer us in times of adversity and is key to a healthy and happy life. In relationship with a child, the quality of the relationship is always the adults responsibility.

What science* tells us today is that in order to lead a healthy and happy life it is as important that we take care of our relationships as much as our bodies. So it’s both good and important to grow strong healthy relationships.

A key component in quality relationships is trust. The feeling of, that no matter what and especially when the going gets tough, that there is that someone you can trust will be there.

The ability to trust and show trust, both in yourself and others, starts to form early in life. In the close relationship between a baby and it’s parents or other caretaker. When the adult takes a responsible leadership and is dependable, predictable and caring it becomes easier for the little baby to relax, to be soothed and to grow. He learns to trust that his world is a good place and the adults can be trusted.

The experience he has with his parents or other caregiver also becomes a blueprint for him into future relationships with family, teachers, piers and later on in life, in love relationships and as a parent himself.

A case study with infants and their parents the first time in the pool, shows us a lot about the power of trust. When parents could trust the teacher and/or was well prepared and trusted themselves they were better capable of being in control of their own emotions and both parent and child could enjoy easier and sooner.

When groups of families (10 groups with 10 families in each group), with babies ranging from two to six months, entered the water for the first time the reactions and experience varied as much as the amount of individuals.

What was general for parents who felt nervous and insecure was that they found it harder to enjoy and in many of the cases it rubbed-off on the baby, who became uneasy, clingy and some even cried. Parents expressed that it felt difficult and that they wished for more time with the teacher and some worried that their child would not like the swimming activity.

In general for parents who felt more secure it was easier for them to tune-in on their child’s needs. They expressed that they felt confident that they could give the support and the time their child needed to feel comfortable in the new environment and activity.

They enjoyed the time together and the class, even those who went out of the water early due to that their baby had had enough. They all looked forward to the next class.

What contributed to a parents ability to manage own emotions and feel more relaxed and confident, was the trust they felt for the teacher and how well prepared the parent was before hand. The teachers confidence and knowledge had a direct impact on the feeling of either being in good hands or not.

What buffered for a less confident and/or experienced teacher was the knowledge a parent had beforehand. When they knew what to expect and what to do the first time with their baby in the water it was easier to trust themselves and in the process of learning. They could better enjoy together and found it positive right from start.

Get off to a great start

To build trust early in life is by being present, predictable and caring. Make it comfortable for your little baby in your hands and arms. When he experiences discomfort help him into comfort again as soon as possible.

In the video you see a baby in the water with her dad. It’s her first time in the pool.

Because she is so little, and not only the activity but the world is new to her, she needs us to go slow. She needs us to show her respect and give her time to see and feel the sensations of the water and her own moves.

She also needs us to pay attention to what captures her interest and also to share and invite her to new experiences such as, easy swings and twists and turns, bubbles, smiles and other activities that she might be ready for. Always tuning in on her.

Rather early in the lesson she let’s us know that it’s enough. She shows signs of discomfort. She is may be tired, hungry or maybe she just needs a short break because she has had enough stimulation, for now. Her father, sees her, reacts and responds to her by holding her close. Is it maybe a just a short rest she needs?

Her mother stands close, the parents support each other in trying to see what their little baby needs. When they realize that she needs more than just a short rest, they leave the pool. Soon, after feeding, the little girl fell comfortably asleep in her mothers arms.

These are the moments that matter and they happen every minute of swim. That is why the gift of swim provides a brilliant joint activity, with parents as leaders and role models to build mutual trust. Not only between the baby and its parents but also between the parents, right from start.

*The Harvard Gazette and news from the 80 year Harvard study that shows how to live a healthy and happy life

One day many years ago I was asked by a big publishing company in Denmark to write a book about baby swimming. They wanted me to write a guide book for parents on baby swimming.

For me a dream came true. I had been working with parents and their babies in the water for many years and also educating teachers. I knew that there was a need for more knowledge. I also had a strong feeling that it would empower parents and teachers.

With more knowledge before they started swim classes they would gain more. And I hoped more parents would take to the water and swim with their babies. So I wrote the book, it was published and became a popular guide book among parents and swim teachers.

The hunch payed off, parents started much better prepared and questions evolved from basic: “How do I get my child to...”, to become more specific and with a desire to learn more and to do it right. And baby swimming grew even more popular. 

One day I realized that something was wrong. Very wrong. Some babies were not happy but rather feeling stressed and uneasy. Viewing it from their perspective our focus had grown more skill based with a tactical approach.

The babies had become test-dummies for us to try “things” with and we wanted them to be happy. The exercises had become the goal of being in the water. 

With the best intentions children had become projects, and exercises was done to the child not with. Becoming someone else project is not only harmful to a persons self-esteem but also to the relationship and the desire to explore and learn may often be lost. Being played with, rather than together with left many children feeling alone, stressed and unhappy.

But they cooperate or adapt and they learn how life and relationships work by experiencing it.

Because some babies were not happy, many parents dropped out of swimming when their little ones didn’t seem to enjoy it anymore. The babies who appeared uneasy or unhappy - some clinging to their parents - were trying to tell us something beyond, “I don’t like swimming”, but we didn’t pick up on it.

They tried to tell us that the way this activity was done felt bad and was to some degree harmful for their development of a healthy self and the relationship.

 

 

Once I recognized the problem, I changed my approach. I researched and read everything I could find on baby development and rewrote our entire curriculum. Rather than emphasizing skills and exercises, my swim program now focused on how babies learn – in the context of a relationship.

It became about the babies and their parents’ emotional experience: how babies’ communicate and their readiness and the parents’ responsiveness to their baby.

There was a need for a new book too. Many of the old books on activities with babies and children you could easily take out baby or child and move in a dough or a thing. I wondered how our view on children had become this way?

Because I had begun to see the effects short and long term it became important to write a new book. When published it had the child as an equal partner in the activity as well as in the relationship.

And ever since that day focus has been on the quality of the relationship. Parents where guided and supported. They were empowered and under their responsible leadership their children loved to explore and learn.

Together they grew and enjoyed more than ever. With the new approach and the new guide book parents where happy to experience that there are few activities in life that can foster growth and relationships as well as swimming with their baby can.

When I was asked to write the book in English, I knew it would not be easy, but to share this approach and to hopefully inspire more parents and caregivers to get into the water, with their baby, and swim, was a high motivator for me.

Now the book is ready to meet its readers – I hope it will bring many happy splashes to families around the world. And imagine if every family get to foster healthier and happier relationships through the gift of swim.

 

Internationally renowned family therapist and author J. Juul call’s the book brilliant!

“This book is a brilliant example of how instructive and uplifting it can be when experienced, dedicated people share their wisdom. On the one hand, it will teach you everything worth knowing about baby swimming, but at the same time you can learn a lot from it about being an attentive and present parent.”

—Jesper Juul, Danish internationally renowned family therapist and author

Christopher is running as fast as his two-year old little legs can carry him towards the water in the pool. When he reaches it he does what he and his dad always do, every week. With a happy squeal he jumps right in. But where is his Dad? No sign of Dad who usually always is with Christopher.

As Christopher’s little body tumbles down deeper into the water he gets surprised, he is not bouncing up as he usually does. He wants to come up again, but he doesn’t know how to! And Dad is not there.

Suddenly Christopher feels someone grab hold of him and pulls him up and out of the water.

He stands back on the pool deck looking with confusion at his rescuer, a man he has never seen before. Inside Christopher there is a turmoil of mixed emotions. Then he hears his Dad’s voice calling his name.

Dad approaches with big steps, worry and fear written all over his face. Christopher reaches for his Dad who picks his little boy up and presses him close into his chest. In Dads arms the tears come. Dad looks like he too is in need of comfort.

Christopher and his Dad has gone for a swim every Sunday the past year. They go up early and while Mom sleeps in they drive to the club and enjoy some Dad and Son quality time.

Christopher has grown very fond of swimming and has become quite a daredevil in the water too. This Sunday while Dad was busy organizing their things Christopher (with the short-lived patience of a two-year old) took matters in his own hands and went ahead of Dad to the pool room.

Christopher knew his way, he had walked there with his Dad for as long as he can remember. With the feeling of joy, freedom and some urgency when he saw the water, the only thing on his mind probably was time for fun.

Only two years old, he has not yet developed the ability to calculate risk or understand consequence, (that will take another twenty (20) years or more). He needs adults to make sure he is safe and secure.

What he also didn’t know was that there is a big difference if you jump in with floaties* on, or not.

Christopher had never experienced anything else than jumping in with floaties on his arms. His understanding of jumping into water was that he was buoyed right back up.

With no floaties on his arms, it didn’t work as he had learned to understand it. The new experience surprised him and he didn’t know how to orient or propel himself to the surface and back to the wall.

He had never been given the opportunity to learn and practice it. Dad didn’t know either that it was important nor that a swim aid, when used this way, actually becomes a crutch for his son and his possibilities to learn important skills.

*(Floaties inflatable arm-rings, swim-ring, cork-belt or other flotation devices.)

While Dad was comforting Christopher the horrifying thought of “What if…” occupied his mind in various ways. It was a close call, a scary experience for both Dad and Christopher. Luckily with a good ending.

The man who rescued Christopher and Dad talked, they agreed on that little two-year-old’s, get their own ideas and can be quick as lightning together with that they don’t always understand that they can get into serious trouble. As far as Christopher knew this place was a happy and fun place and that he could “swim”.

The man recommended Dad to give his son the opportunity of also getting to learn a more true experience of the water and how that would equip Christopher better. It would also teach dad important knowledge about his son and his abilities and limitations in water.

It was a matter of not giving children a false sense of water and their capabilities but letting them in the safety and security of their parents guidance, and in their own pace learn about the water and be better equipped in water and with life on this planet.

Dad didn’t need to think twice. He signed them up for swim lesson right away. It took some weeks before Christopher happily accepted not having the floaties on. He missed the freedom and independence they had given him and without them he felt limited and it frustrated him.

But soon they both, Dad and Christopher, gained more confidence and the lessons they learned helped them grow as individuals and as a team. It made them feel great. Dad learned about water and how to help and give his son opportunity to discover his buoyancy and develop efficient movements.

Christopher could under his dads great leadership grow trust in himself and develop his understanding of water and swim abilities. They took their Sunday quality time to a whole new level.

Christopher grew more understanding and confidence and his father was a great leader beside him. Because of the trusting relationship and the fun they had together Christopher soon learned how to, after jumping into the water without the floaties, orient and propel himself back to the wall.

With the more true knowledge of his whereabouts in the water he could also enjoy time with the floaties on. Although as his competence had grown he preferred swimming without. With the support and help from Dad he was developing his swimming skills, and that was a fun challenge for him.

 

Son and Dad have fun and grow under a fathers great leadership

 

Flotation Devices

A flotation device, such as a Pool Noodle or Swim Ring, can give a child freedom to move around independently in the water. But too much time spent with flotation devices can adversely impact muscle memory and your child’s swimming, so use these aids in moderation.

From the Book: "Happy Babies Swim"

 

Always stay close to your child

- This probably goes without saying, but you should never leave your child alone in or around water. And even if you are present, you should not take your eyes off of them. Children are naturally curious and want to explore, and they have not developed the ability to calculate risk or understand consequence.

Therefor it is always the adults role to keep them safe by guiding them towards fun activities and away from any danger. It’s never a child’s responsibility to keep themselves safe - it’s the adults responsibility! Your child naturally trusts that you are taking full responsibility for his safety.

An adult should always be with a child in the water, or at arm’s reach depending how old and comfortable of a swimmer the child is.

One day many years ago Chloe and her Mom, equally nervous, entered the pool at the swim school. As they waded in to join the larger group, Mom’s thoughts were spiraling with numerous worries, “Am I holding her properly? Do the other parents notice me fumbling around? What if Chloe doesn’t like the water? Ugh, I hate a scene… will I get my money back if she hates to swim? I can’t believe it took months to get into this class and now that we’re here I’m already regretting it!”

Every day since Chloe was born had been a struggle for Mom. Chloe was then a five-months old little girl with big serious eyes that noticed everything around her. She easily started crying and it was often difficult for her Mom to soothe and comfort her again. Mom worried a lot and she tried so hard. She did everything she could think of, bought all the “right” things, read all the good books on parenting, followed blogs and listened to good advice. Little did it help. The worry and many cries was wearing on the whole family. Next in line of activities for Chloe to try was baby swimming.

Soon after entering the water Chloe started crying. At that point, it was all becoming a little too much for Mom. She was thinking, “How did I end up with a child that cries all the time? This happens at home and now in the water too!” She was on the verge of giving up and crying herself.

The teacher saw her, the rest of the group saw her too and they all felt how difficult it was for Mom and Chloe. Chloe’s Mom wanted, as most parents do, her baby to be happy and content. In order for her to do that Mom needed to relax. Mom needed reassuring words, understanding and empathy. She needed to know that she was welcome, that she was a good parent and that her daughter was a wonderful little girl that at this point was trying to tell her Mom that her mothers worry worried her.
For Mom to relax she needed to know that she would get help and support when needed and that neither her or Chloe would be pushed into doing anything they were not ready for. They were not there to perform. They were there to enjoy, to learn and to grow together. The teacher looked her deep into her eyes and told her that. Chloe’s Mom wanted to believe it all. She relaxed, a little. She needed time and to also experience it before she would be able to relax more.

Mom and Chloe came to every lesson. Focus was on Mom and for her to become more aware of her own emotions and to better regulate them. In the safe, warm and caring environment Mom relaxed more and was able to let go of her worries, and so did her little girl. Chloe became less tense and stopped crying.

Because Chloe’s Mom worried less she could better separate her own emotions which allowed her to better meet, help, soothe and regulate her daughters emotions. Because of that Mom and daughter began to understand and enjoy each other more, having fun on the journey of learning together, while in the water.
Until finally there were more giggles than cries. The positive change this “dynamic duo” created in the water was even something they brought home to their daily life, which greatly impressed Dad, too. The house felt happier and calmer for everyone - and Chloe thrived all around.


This is a great example of how swimming together was the catalyst for parents to grow self-awareness and how that strengthens the parent-child relationship, and lead to overall happiness.

This and many more stories, some which I share in the book, Happy Babies Swim, led to the idea of writing a book to parents and caregivers. To better prepare and empower you with valuable knowledge before and during your swim journey together with your baby. When I published my first book in Denmark, and parents got to read it before they started swimming the difference was so obvious. Parents started more relaxed and it propelled them and their little ones right into enjoying, exploring and learning together. It was of great benefit for the families and it was a tremendous support for the teachers too. With more joint understanding we elevated the activity to new heights and relationships blossomed. And when relationships blossom learning excels!

I was tagged in a video from a TV program showing a dad with his baby attending a baby swimming class. It showed a little girl who was repeatedly dunked. She didn’t look comfortable and the big confusing mismatch were the cheerful enthusiastic adults. The tag line from the TV station read, “Doesn’t it make you want a baby?” I was asked what I thought about it.

To be frank, I wouldn’t have liked to be a baby in those hands. If this form of “baby swimming” makes us lose the ability to tune into the baby’s experience and make sure it feels safe and comfortable for her too, then this should not be considered an appropriate activity for babies, nor for parents.

Do not misunderstand me

I advocate for baby swimming, but not when it’s done this way.
Because it was on public TV I’m taking the opportunity to address something I’ve seen all over the world (and not only in baby swimming) and invite you to reflect and discuss in a constructive matter that will serve our children, and the experience we give them. My wish is for us to shed light on it from a child’s perspective because it can affect relationships and outcomes, in the short and long term.

The video clip is from Danish TV 4.

The instructor says:
- “Yes! Great job! - Really well done!”
The dad says:
- “I feel so proud. It’s extraordinary when somebody praises you and tells you, that you are doing so good. I’m so proud I get to have this experience with her (his daughter), and that it goes so well. I am very proud.”

The video clip shows a very happy and proud dad - that's great! He feels great about the praise, it’s easy to understand that, who wouldn’t? Being a parent is a tough task. When somebody tells you you are doing a great job, that feels good. So, so far all good.
Now let’s look at it from the baby’s perspective. Here is where is gets problematic. How is her reaction? What is she experiencing? Does she share that lovely feeling?

In the video you see how her father takes her on his back and submerge under water with her.
From her expression, she does not look secure or comfortable, and she certainly does not look like she is having fun. Later she is dunked, rather than the adult making it possible for her to submerge herself with her parent as a guide.

Children learn in relationships

Children learn to understand their emotions in relationships and through experience. So if you look at her reaction and at the contrast between the adults' enthusiasm and the child's rather tensed expression you might ask: What is she learning here? And will this affect her and the trust she feels with her father? Will it affect her feelings toward water activities and swimming in the long run?

Rather harsh one could say, she is learning that this is how swimming with her dad is - The activity is for the adults and she is used as an object. She gets dunked by him, and while she feels overwhelmed and insecure, the adults are enthusiastically cheering instead of tuning in on her, reacting and adjusting to her needs and comforting her. The child is left alone in her reaction and emotionally confused.

When there is such difference between her feelings and those of her parents and the other adults, it will not have a positive effect in her emotional development. Emotions are at the heart of how we humans encounter our world. Emotions even fuel our intelligence. A little baby is born with all the emotions but needs help in understanding them and does so in relationship with her parents and other important adults.

Your baby mirrors you

When your baby is little she mirrors her reactions in you. For example, when your child is sad you respond with a sad face saying; “Oh my darling, you look so sad, come here.” You take her up and into your comforting arms. You carry her and her sadness and soothe her out of it. You help her to restore the calm within her.
When your child expresses joy, you share it and also put words, tone and mimic to it. You might even find ways to elevate it together.
This responsive relationship helps your child learn to know herself from within, it grows trust and strengthens the bond between you.

Out of this trust, the opportunity for deeper learning is also created. Because our emotions are interlinked with our intelligence it is important that we learn to understand them and not like earlier beliefs to suppress them.

If the child doesn’t have responsive adults around her that are capable of tuning into her emotions and responding to them, she might cooperate, but suppress the emotions the adults are neglecting. At worst she could loose her inner compass and it could negatively affect the trust-bond between parent and child.

Fortunately, most parents are attuned and responsive with their babies and in this relationship they both grow empathy - the ability to read and understand other human beings.

Don't drown empathy by dunking babies

What I urge us all, parents, teachers, program managers, school owners and leaders to do is to reflect and make sure that this natural human instinct is not drowned by dunking babies.
We need to make sure it is cultivated and nurtured, and I know from experience that baby swimming might even be one of the best activities for parents to see, become aware of and develop their instincts of how to best help their child to healthy emotional development.

Baby swimming with equal dignity

We all win

With this approach to baby swimming there will not only be more joy, but empathy and compassion will also grow for both. It will strengthen the important trust bonds between them and our children will grow up smarter and stronger – and we all win!