How to get your tiddler into the swim of things

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


I love swimming. One of the very first things I want to teach my son is how to swim.

When the pool's open, I swim at least three times a week. Before my son was born, I was in our local pool for half an hour every day.

I am convinced my birth was made easier by all the swimming I did over the whole nine months.

I am very keen that my little boy, Tom, learn to swim at the earliest age possible. I am hoping he'll share my passion for water and water sports. But even if he doesn't, it's of the utmost importance that he is safe in the water, and that means being able to swim. Drowning is a very real parental fear. It can happen very quickly indeed.

I consult Jayne Wright, the director of swimming at Harry Wright International, a swimming club for babies and children in Hong Kong. She says four months old is a good age to start babies in the water.

I took Tom swimming for the first time when he was four months old. We swooshed around in the pool together. Both of us had a look of delight on our faces - him because he loved it and me because I loved him loving it.

Then the weather turned cold, and as our nearby pools are all outdoor, we started shivering and stopped swimming. However, I really want to teach him to swim, and this means keeping him used to being in water - so we need a plan.

Our nickname for Tom is 'the tiddler', which means a very small fish. It feels appropriate as we decide to reinstate regular swimming as he turns eight months old.

There is a fantastic indoor children's pool at the Island East Sports Centre in Sai Wan Ho. The facilities are brilliant - loads of water cannons, a castle and slides. My husband and I head there at the weekend. 'Come on, tiddler,' we say. He squeals with delight as we pull him round in great arcs.

Wright suggests a maximum of 45 minutes in the water so the baby doesn't get too cold. After the allotted time, I have trouble dragging my husband away from the water cannons. I have to ask who the real child is here.

At Harry Wright International, they teach the children to go underwater during the second lesson.

'We teach parents how to safely submerge their babies and through a series of progressions to propel underwater unaided,' says Wright.

'We keep it fun for the babies by singing, using equipment, fun exercises and encouraging parents to remain relaxed and smile and laugh. It is a very important philosophy that, although we are progressing the babies and teaching them to propel unaided, at all times we keep them happy. We want this to be an enjoyable experience for all - mummy, daddy, baby and teacher.'

A friend told me that before you dunk them, you blow on their face and this makes them hold their breath. I tried it and it worked! Tom emerged from his dunking shaking the water off and beaming.

'Babies from the age of six months to two years can propel unaided but obviously cannot breathe underwater so basically depending on age and strength they can propel or swim as far as they can hold their breath,' says Wright.

As much as I'd like Tom to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau, I am reluctant to test for how long he can hold his breath, so we refrain from the underwater swimming.

Wright says that if you persist with baby classes, it's possible that by two or 2 1/2 years old, your child will be able to swim 10 metres or more unaided. By age three, they should be swimming confidently and unaided.

I can't understand parents who don't teach their children to swim - and not just about the dangers of drowning. Swimming is a great sport, not just in pools but also in the great outdoors. Think of all the beaches, rivers and lakes your child will be able to enjoy.

So, grab your tiddler and head down to the pool.