My oldest daughter is coming up for two and a half, and she has been swimming on her own for a couple of weeks now. She used a noodle for months, and wouldn't let anyone help her ("I do it myself mummy," she would say). She loved her independence in the water on her noodle.
But a few weeks ago, she asked me to stand a little way away from where she was holding onto the wall, and she swam for the first time to me without the noodle. And the look in her eyes when she got to me was the best look I've ever seen - I could feel her pride and achievement, and it was a huge moment for both of us.
I must admit, her version of swimming didn't look how I thought it might - she kicks her legs and pulls with her arms, but her head and body are just below the surface. Every few seconds, she pulls herself up to take a breath and get her bearings, before ducking her face back in to continue. She can swim around three metres like this before being ready for a cuddle, heart pounding while she catches her breath, beaming with happiness and satisfaction.
So how did we get to this stage? How did my little girl, who was the least active swimmer I've ever seen when she started at four months and didn't even try to kick a leg for a good term, start swimming by herself?
Trust - This has been a huge, huge one for us. We worked hard to build her trust from day one - we have been the most boring, stable, trustworthy parents you could ever hope to find in a swimming pool. We don't move the goalposts, we don't let her fall under the water "accidentally". We prepared her from day one for anything that would happen, and she got used to knowing what to expect;
Role models - We both love the water, and we're both strong swimmers which helps. But she's watched us swim, go below the water, jump in (still awesome when you're an adult by the way! Nothing beats jumping into a pool!) and generally mess around and enjoy being in the water;
We let her take the lead - I wouldn't consider pushing her deep under the water for a submerged swim. Our daughter made a choice a few weeks ago to let go of the wall and swim to me, and that came through a confidence she has developed over the past two years. When I specialised in Parent and Child teaching I was taught a conditioning method - a verbal cue with an adult-led submersion. I feel grateful every day that I found another, more gentle method to use, and I can see the results!
Wait - Sometimes, for what feels like a very long time. Babies and toddlers don't develop in a neat upwards straight line. My beautiful daughter was far from a model swimmer when she started lessons. She went through months of lying motionless in the water and refusing to move a muscle. We were so happy when she started kicking her legs - but within a few weeks she went back to floating about in the water again. The same happened with jumping in - she went from being helped into the water from a sitting jump by one of us, to splashing in with no help. Then she started standing up and wanted some help, then back to sitting down, then refusing to jump at all before eventually being the splashy independent jumper she is today. It has taken a lot of patience to let her learn at her own pace.
Risks - My heart was in my mouth when she told me she wanted to swim by herself, but I'm happy that I trusted her and that we took that risk together.
The confidence boost my daughter felt when she achieved something new for the first time completely independently was worth a million times more than any hollow "Well done"s, "Good girl"s or "Great job"s, I didn't need to go overboard with the praise - she knew what she'd done and she was prouder of herself than I've ever seen her. How much can our children do for themselves? How much intervention do they really need? Let's see what they can achieve.