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A safe start to swimming

September 07, 2011

As the mother of a toddler, I sometimes feel as if my day is spent preventing one accident after the next. Is she standing too close to the stove while I cook? Can she reach the cord where she might pull the iron down on her? Did I close the front door behind me? Is she splashing in the toilet? What in the world did she put in her mouth!?!

These are the thoughts constantly running through my mind as I chase a curious and seemingly fearless 18-month-old. At this stage, my job is to help my child explore her world, but to explore it safely. With that philosophy in mind, I recently enrolled her in Safe Start, a drowning prevention program at my neighborhood YMCA.

Knowing that drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in the home for children under the age of 5, swimming pools worry me. Knowing that most of the accidents occur while the child is being supervised by one or both parents worries me even more. Rather than simply worry, though, it seemed like a good idea to equip her with an extra layer of protection in case an accident were to occur.

To be honest, prior to starting the lessons I felt like it was the right thing to do, but I was not looking forward to putting my child through this ordeal. I thought it would be traumatic and a test of my will to force a screaming baby into the pool each day. I was prepared to cry right along with her if I needed to.

What I was not prepared for was the possibility that this program might teach her to love the water and to enjoy it with confidence. The program has certainly been challenging for her, and she has had good days and bad. But, as we enter our last week of the six week program, I can say that very few of my parenting decisions have been as rewarding as this one.

When I see her jump into the pool, swim toward the steps, then pop up with a look of sheer joy on her face, I know that this challenge has been worth it. She is now equipped with the best possible tools to fight for survival if an accident occurs. Beyond that, she knows the pride of accomplishment and the reward of hard work. It has also been a good lesson for me to see the value of equipping a child to participate in our world safely, rather than shield them out of fear.