Why I insist my son learn how to swim

Becoming a mom has led me to reflect on my own childhood, my relationship with water and my experiences learning to swim. As a child, I spent countless summer days at the beach. We lived a short bike ride away and as soon as my sister and I were old enough to cycle on the road, we’d go there on our own.
It was the best of times, building sandcastles, digging for clams and catching waves. The water was mostly shallow with sandy dunes stretching out for quite a distance. I wasn’t afraid of the water, but I also wasn’t the strongest swimmer. I didn’t dare jump off the wharf like some of the older and braver kids would do. Back in those days, adults didn’t always supervise kids as closely as they should around water – certainly not at arms-length with young kids.
Playing at the beachNow that I’m a mom, I realize that my swimming abilities as a child were woefully inadequate. Despite taking swimming lessons starting when I was 7 years old, proudly getting those first few Red Cross swim badges and then struggling to obtain that notoriously challenging maroon badge, I wasn’t a strong swimmer and I could have gotten into big trouble. Luck must have been on my side.
Now I’m seeing my own 3-year-old son fearlessly jumping in the water, learning to swim and loving the beach as much as I did. He’s been going to the pool weekly since he was about 6 months old. He’s been enrolled in parent and child swim classes and he’ll be taking swimming lessons all the way until he’s a strong, competent swimmer with a sound knowledge of water safety.
It’s as important as learning how to cross the road safely. We live on the east coast, with easy access to ocean, lakes and a multitude of water-based sports and activities. While I know supervising him closely and making sure he wears appropriate safety gear such as a PFD while boating is critical, the value of learning how to swim can’t be understated.
The best part of exposing him to the water early and often is that he’s never been afraid to put him head down and show me how he can blow bubbles under water. He’s building his confidence and his ability to swim in a safe environment. I’m in awe when I see him propelling himself with his legs across the pool with only a bit of assistance. I certainly didn’t develop those skills at such an early age and it was only after taking swim lessons as an adult that I began to feel more confident in my own abilities.
This summer, when we’re at the beach, you’ll find me playing right alongside him. Not only because it’s fun, but because I know I can’t let an impulsive and fearless child out of my sight and reach for even a moment around the water, regardless of his promising swimming abilities.
It’s never too late to learn how to swim. Check out your local pool or aquatics facility for Red Cross Swim programs for all ages.
You can also check out these handy tips for keeping kids safe around the water.
I also encourage you to share this short video to your network as a reminder to actively supervise children – it’s not enough to be nearby, eyes need to be on kids all the time. Reading a book, texting or surfing the internet by the pool is not active supervision.  We can’t rely on luck to keep kids safe around water.

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