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Make waves with your body language

As parents and carers we put a lot of thought into how we communicate with our children; from answering questions using simple language to cuddling up for a bedtime story told in a soft voice. Likewise, we expect teachers and key workers to inspire respect, confidence and warmth in the way they interact with our kids. But what about our communication poolside? It makes sense we think about how we communicate with our kids to inspire confidence around water.

Children are highly intuitive and can read carers’ signals on many levels. Sometimes a carer’s instinct to protect their child and keep them safe translates into nervous postures and cautious, even negative language. Innocent comments such as ‘oh you don't like the woggle, do you?’, ‘Alice doesn't like swimming under the water,’ or even ‘I don’t want to get my hair wet,’ come from a caring place, and should never incur judgement, but as swimming teachers it’s our role to encourage positive communication.

Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking about how a child is held in the water. A tight, rigid grip can imply the water is a fearful place. It also leaves no room for the child to embrace the lesson and adapt to new sensations and enjoy the freedom of the water.

Of course, a child who feels nervous may need the security of a being held close, but carers should be alert to changes in mood and confidence that may fluctuate from lesson to lesson, moment to moment.

We can use non-verbal communication to read a child’s mood too. Parents should look out for signals from their children. Gaze aversion, turning away and head shaking before going under the water are all cues that parents can use to recognise their child’s limits and establish trust.
 
Using open ended, positive questions and watching for the reply is key; some children might use gestures to convey feelings they can’t yet name. Eye contact promotes trust and speaks louder than words!
 
If this sounds like a lot to think about, don’t worry, we understand! As swimming teachers we recognise that sleep deprivation, postnatal depression, a full-on home life, even peer pressure and worries about a child’s behaviour can all influence how carers communicate with their children. And we know how important a good chat with other parents is too; it’s easy to be distracted! We’ll always try to be sensitive to parents’ situation and make the lesson as positive as possible.
 
Our approach has been designed with the above in mind. Our classes combine songs and games to introduce vital swimming skills in a fun and energetic way. We enjoy sharing this magical time with you and your little one, and recognise it’s often personal connection that helps you get the most out of your sessions.
 
So next time we see you at Water Sprites, why not jump into the pool, get your hair wet, get low in water, blow bubbles, swim on your back and have fun in the water? Take a deep breath, make eye contact with your baby, smile, relax and let oxytocin do the rest! You’ll be amazed how much your baby learns when you’re both having fun, feeling happy and relaxing in the water!'

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