Chase on the wallAaahhh…Chase. So much spunk. This boy was ready to get in the pool the moment he arrived- with or without an adult. There’s a difficult stage some kids go through when learning how to swim. It starts the moment he successfully completes a skill and thinks, “I can do this.” He gains confidence… too much confidence… false confidence. This can be tricky because while I want to foster and encourage the brave new behavior, his safety is my number one concern. (Watch the video entitled “Chase testing the waters and his limits” to understand my concern.)

Chase backfloat

One day a swimmer is afraid to come off the steps, then he learns to float or kick or put his face in, giving him new confidence in the water. So the next day he walks straight down the steps and into the pool with no sense of danger. As soon as he can’t touch, he goes under. When Chase does this, I pick up his cute vertical self, expecting him to cough, choke, cry and tell me he can’t do that by himself. Nope. He catches his breath then pushes off my legs back into the water and goes vertical straight away.

I see that Chase swims like a puppy dog. I watch as he struggles to keep his face above the water, arms desperately paddling and legs frantically bicycling below him. Rather than take a breathe, put his face down and swim, he panics, opens his mouth and yells, “Help!” Which makes him suck in water. I stand up straight in the 3 1/2 foot deep pool and stare straight down at him.

“Put your face in the water.”
“Heeelllp!” He paddles in circles.
“PUT your FACE in the WATER.”
“Heeeelllllp!” He doesn’t listen.
I put my hands on my hips, look into his sweet, terrified eyes and insist, “PUT. YOUR. FACE. IN. THE. WATER and swim to me.”
His teary eyes plead to me.

Chase finally puts his face in, his legs pop up, and he moves horizontally through the water to me. I pick him up and look at him with concern and relief as he coughs out some water and holds tight to me.

“Phew!” I thought, “He learned his lesson.”


I ask Chase, “Do you think it’s a good idea to do that?”

“Yes,” he says.

“Really?” I ask. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Are you sure you can swim all by yourself?” As I ask this I shake my head back and forth.

“Yes,” Chase says confidently.


Repeat above drama.

Chase on kickboardOkay, so he’s persistent. I like that. Not at the moment, but I like that. Chase doesn’t give up. He still needs a ton of positive reinforcement and probably quite a few more frantic puppy dog experiences.

I can see that he’s getting tired, so I think of a way to use this fatigue to my advantage. It’s like a  game, a challenge…How can I freak him out enough to gain a healthy respect for the water, yet not so much that he becomes traumatized? I decide to have Chase jump in, turn around and swim back to wall, thinking this will be way too tiring for him. To my surprise, he climbs out of the pool excitedly. I have to put my hand up to stop him from jumping in before we count with a cue to enter the water. As soon as he settles down long enough to put his toes over the edge, he waits for the cue, jumps way out and bellyflops. Ouch!  so goes out far and can’t get back. I had to show him that he could do it. Started out very boisterous, but by the end said, “I’m tired. I can’t hold on anymore.” I told him he would do one more jump CORRECTLY, then he would be done. And he nailed it!

Parents have a tough time letting their child struggle. I don’t have a child. I’m sure that if I did and he was yelling, “Help!” and drowning, I would help him. I’ve been doing this for over 22 years, so I know what I’m doing and I know that your child will be safe. I know his limits. And to build a healthy relationship with the water, those limits need to be tested. Just please make sure this is happening in a SAFE environment!

Stick to a cue. Use same cue every time. If your instructor uses a cue, ask what it is so you can be consistent when you practice. Reinforce the cue. Be rigid. It’s your child’s life you’re saving. This is possibly the cutest video of a child asking me to remind them of their cue. Notice how he adds the word “set” when he repeats it back to me. Therefore, I used the cue that Chase repeated, as he said it like that a few times.

At the end of the lesson, I asked Chase, “Do you think it’s a good idea to try to swim all the way across the pool all by yourself?” Shaking my head from side to side. “No,” he said in a sheepish voice. “I need your help.” Good boy!

To watch more videos of Chase, click here…

Chase underwater