Parents often ask whether they need to be good swimmers themselves in order to come to my baby swimming classes, and the answer's a tricky one. Being one hundred percent honest, your baby will pick up on your anxieties - if your body language is tense and nervous your baby will get the impression that there's something to fear. More than that, we're a mirror for our babies and children in the pool - can we really expect them to do something we wouldn't want to do ourselves?
And that's where it becomes a bit of a cycle - if you're nervous, your baby will be nervous...if both of you are nervous it could take longer for your baby to swim...and so the cycle of anxieties around the water continues for another generation. Maybe you've had a bad experience in the pool or sea, maybe you never had lessons yourself, or maybe you've not swum for a few years and need to get your confidence back. But the point is, you don't want the same for your little ones, that's why you signed them up for lessons. You want your children to have a better experience of the water than you had yourself, and they're blank slates when it comes to swimming - there isn't a real reason for your anxieties to have to affect their experience in the pool.
The good news is, you can break the cycle - you can model water confidence to give your baby the best shot at being happy in the water even if secretly you're not feeling one hundred percent confident yourself.
In a class a little while ago, when I was encouraging the mums and dads to submerge themselves under the water for their children to watch, I suggested to one particularly nervous dad that he might like to duck under for a second or two and come up with a huge smile on his face for his little boy to see. He did, and for the first time his son voluntarily put his face in the water - and came up smiling too!
Baby swimming...baby steps!
Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself in the water. You don't need to be able to somersault into the pool from the highest board and swim a length of perfect butterfly! Maybe in the first week you could blow bubbles for your baby to watch, then progress to putting your nose in...then your face and so on, week by week. Gradually, you'll get more and more confident, and you'll be able to show your baby that you're not scared and you're enjoying the water whilst staying within your comfort zone.
It's in the shoulders
Sometimes it's worth pretending to be a bit more confident than you really feel. When your arms and shoulders are tense, your hands will be tense, and your baby will feel you gripping them that bit more tightly and rigidly than you usually would. Think about relaxing your shoulders to relax that grip, particularly if you're submerging yourself, your baby or both of you. You want a firm, confident hold without that hint of anxiety! And remember, lots of smiles to keep you both relaxed.
Consider swimming lessons for yourself
Adult learn to swim classes aren't all about stroke correction or endless lengths - I teach adults who want to improve their water confidence rather than learn to swim. There are plenty of skills you can work on to boost your water confidence and stay one step ahead of your baby in the pool.
Whatever you do, enjoy it. You want your baby to swim, and in order for that to happen, they'll need to relax. And in order for that to happen you'll need to relax! Your baby will find their buoyancy and balance when they're at ease in the water, and if that means you take things at a slower pace so that you can feel happy and confident, then that's better than pushing yourself too far and scaring both of you. Always share any concerns with your teacher - I'll always support my parents and provide a hand to hold if they're feeling anxious.