Blog

Be mindful - your child's brain and your relationship matters!

A mother with a 6 month old baby is concerned, contacts me and asks: "He gets very upset every time we submerge him, shouldn't we comfort him? Shall we keep on doing it?"

I answer with a question: "What do you feel?"

Mother answers: "I want to comfort him and it feels wrong to keep dunking him, but I have been told that it will give him the wrong signals if I comfort and if we stop."

-Of course he must be comforted! And of course you should stop doing things to him that makes him feel so uncomfortable that he cries.
In the water and activities you do together, it should feel nice, fun, interesting and safe to be with you.
It's also important that he gets the right emotional response from you. When he cries, he is clearly communicating that something is wrong and hard for him to handle. He needs your help.

You instinctively feel that you want to comfort and help him. Listen to that instinct, it's good, it's empathy talking.

A small child is very sensitive to stress and it's important due to healthy development that your child feels safe with you. You should never be the one that intentionally and repeatedly expose your child to that kind of stress your boy is feeling.

Why do teachers tell parents that they should not comfort and keep on submerging the child?

Baby Crying

-They do so because that's what many learned on education and training earlier, and some still do unfortunately.
There is so much new knowledge today. It is important that parents and teachers in baby swimming, learn more about how to take good care of the child's growing brain and the significance of the quality in a relationship for a healthy development and life. We must help each other to do good.

In baby swimming, there are many naturally occurring trust situations where children and parents can strengthen the important trust-bond between them.
Parents can, in the water together with their child, learn and experience many of the amazing things that builds relationship, develop parents leadership and how they can support their child's emotional development and a lifelong joy of learning.

Focus on the water (and on land) must be on a relationship based on trust and respect, so it will be enriching and good. In the water, learning and understanding of the relationship can be lifted to fantastic new heights, that's why I believe it can become the best activity.

The pictures are borrowed from the web. Source unknown.

Risk taking is important to humans physical and mental development. We naturally seek them and when doing so by own choice we feel free, alive and capable.

I'm always fascinated by how children naturally are capable in seeking (for them) appropriate challenges and communicating their desire and needs. This they are able to communicate as young as only a couple of months. What they need is adults that is willing to and tries to understand them.

Unfortunately there is a tendency to prevent children from trying and from taking risks. There is also a growing blaming culture where parents or caretakers feel or place guilt when children hurt themselves while exploring.

The message from us to our children when doing so is: "I don't believe in your abilities." The other message is "If you fail, I am to blame and I don't want that."

That is not a healthy path - children need to explore to learn and adults need to take responsibility of their own fears.

There is no doubt that children need us adults to keep them as safe as possible. But we need to understand the duality of risks, there are negative and positive risks.

We have to respect children's belief in their abilities, their curiosity and willingness to interact with the environment and learn about life.

Gunnar Breivik, Professor emeritus of social sciences says; "Let children take risks, it's their right as human beings. It effects their learning and wellbeing."

I think this is a refreshing approach and I can see how important it is and how it benefits both children and adults.

What are your thoughts?

To swim with buckets and toys offers a little extra resistance. We adults know that. With a helpful intention we might try to take the toys from our children while they swim.

But it's not always children voluntarily will hand over their treasures.

This is where we must stop! Remind ourselves of who's seeing and experiencing a problem? If it's possible for my child to swim with her favorite things - so why not?

Seeing them down below the surface I have no doubt that it is possible and that they absolutely do not have a problem.

Experience has shown me that these children develop a very good knowledge of resistance which become a great advantage in their future swimming.

Imagine viewing life as full of opportunities to explore and learn from. That is a perspective we like - right?!

"You are my teacher. How you deal with love, conflict, sorrow, joy, pain, defeat, new things, people, variety, the way you believe in yourself, in others and me will also characterize me and shape my approach to all this and more."

It's a swindling thought but also great because it allows us adults to take the lead. When we become aware of and take responsibility for our own feelings, reactions and actions and focus on the quality of the dialogue and the relationship we are the best role models for our own and others' children. It's more about our self-development than on our ability to manage and control our children, and children give us the opportunity to self develop.

Jesper Juul, family therapist and author puts it as follows: "I do not think there is any relationship that at the same time is so accepting and provides personal development as the relationship between parent and child." Leading experts and researchers in neuroscience confirm and state that: "Self-development is the best gift a parent can give a child."

In the wonderful presence and joined play that water offers you and your baby, I know that the process gets a good start and it will become a both thrilling and delightful course.

The risk of drowning scares many parents. And driven by fear parents can enroll in or try to “waterproof” their children through methods that causes trauma. Trauma is nothing you want your child to experience because it will have a lasting and damaging effect on its sensitive and developing brain.

Dear parent I don't write this to scare you. The anatomy of fear makes us unable to think and act as we would do when we are calm and sane. What is important is that you are aware of the risks when your child is in and around water. That you are aware of what you can do and do it. And I want you to be aware of quality when you enroll your child in a swim school.

Swimming is an education for life

On the blue planet where we live water covers most of the surface and therefor it is wise to let your child learn how to swim and practice swimming. It is an education for life. It can save your child's life, or someone else's for that matter. But learning to swim, enjoy water and feel confident is not a quick-fix and can and should not be forced.

The goal does not justify the means

The practice in the methods I am referring to that can cause trauma is to repetitively dunk an infant or a child under water and roll them over on their back to float. This continues until the child himself can roll over and stay afloat independently. During classes children cry helplessly for their parents help. With the remarkable adaptivity children are capable of even if they are hurt they eventually learn to mechanically perform the skill in silence. 
Parents who feel insecure when their child cries are reassured by the “experts” that “the goal justifies the means”. It doesn't. These methods are nothing but child abuse and they should be banned.

It is often very confusing to the adult world how children respond to traumatic events. It's easy to dismiss the profound impact that a traumatic event has on the child because they do most things pretty well. 
Trauma will sensitize the child's stress regulating system. It will also effect the sense of trust and endanger the secure attachment bond between a parent and its child. 
To grow up healthy and with capability to handle distress your child needs to feel and experience that you are dependable and that it feels safe and secure with you.

Children who don't get soothed becomes less capable in handling distress

A child's cry is their way of communicating a need for help. They are experiencing a situation or strong emotions where they need their caretaker to save them or help them regulate. When an infant or child repeatedly are not soothed by their parents when they are in distress, or if it is the parents who are causing the distress, it impacts the chemical system of the child's brain. To compensate the lack of soothing by the parents the levels of cortisol rise to calm down the system. 
The high levels of cortisol is dangerous to the child's brain tissue. It results in less capability to handle distress in the future. They become more prone to become upset and also to staying upset once they get upset.

Neurologists that study the brain see differences in children's brains (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/children/9637682/Whats-the-difference-between-these-two-brains.html)

A child is never safe around water – it needs you!

Even if your child is confident in and around water your child still needs you to keep him/her safe. If you recognize and are aware of that - your child is much safer. Children live in the moment and when something interesting happens or catches their interest they are off. They have less experience and they have not yet the ability to understand consequences. The part of the brain that will be able to calculate risk and consequences is not fully developed until we are 22-25 years old. Therefor children and young adults need responsible adults to keep them as safe as possible.

Sound precautions

  1. Identifying risks and making sure the area is as safe as possible
  2. Supervise
  3. Make sure your child practices swimming continuously
  4. Educate yourself in CPR and first-aid
  5. Be a good role-model - remember... children do what we do...

For more information on safety around water visit:

USA (http://www.swimforlife.org/)

Australia (http://www.kidsalive.com.au/)

Denmark (http://www.trygfonden.dk/Projekter/TrygFonden-Kystlivredning/Kystlivredning-Pages/De-fem-baderaad)

Sweden (http://svenskalivraddningssallskapet.se/olika-sprak/sweden/bad-batvett)

If there is a link you would like me to add – send me a message.

Look for a quality swim school with a happy caring approach

It is within safe, present and loving relationships that children learn and develop best. Swimming is a skill for life. It takes time to learn and children need safe and caring teachers along with time to practice to develop into confident swimmers. 
Look for a quality program. It should be a happy and caring environment where the teaching is playful and fun for the children. It is through play and practice a child learns best and will become a confident swimmer. 
If it brings a smile to your face and feels good it probably is good.

Today there are many swim schools around the world that's developed into great learning environments for children. If you can enroll your child to one of those quality programs it will be one of your best investments for your child. It will not only give your child a skill for life but also add capital in many other areas.

Which swim schools would you recommend and why?