Breath control is an essential element in the learn-to-swim process. By teaching children breathe control we make first submersion free from fuss and trauma. Teaching breath control to babies from 0-2 years is best done by conditioning. Here we prepare baby for their first under water experience by conditioning them to react and hold their breath in response to the verbal conditioning trigger, “Ready go!”
Because the water runs quickly, smoothly and evenly down the forehead, baby should not ingest any water. With daily practice baby will soon react positively to these “trigger words” by being happy and confident with water on the face and closing their eyes on the trigger. Once the teacher or parent notices this positive reaction, baby is ready for their first submersion.
By two years of age teaching breath control by conditioning becomes less effective. While some children may still accept the conditioning process others will protest. This protest occurs because at this age children understand a lot more about their environment and are starting to form their own opinions, ideas and fears.
At this age children need to participate voluntarily in breath control activities. They can follow instructions and need to be encouraged to put their faces underwater. Importantly, a child’s head must never be held or forced underwater.
Once children have mastered breath control and are happy with their submersions we can extend the time that is spent underwater. In the initial conditioning, the water runs quickly over the face. When trying to extend the breath control and teach babies to hold their breath for longer periods of time the parent or teacher can practise a slow long pour over the face.
For best practise use the trigger words, pour the water on top of the forehead and as you pour count 1 2 3. Then repeat again and pour for the count of 1 2 3 4, and again for the count of 1 2 3 4 5. By building the skill in this way it will be easier to perform submersions for the count of 3, 4 and 5 seconds. As children grow with age we can instruct them to submerge their face and keep it underwater for the count of 5 to 10 seconds. Once again we are building the swimming skills. Always remember that we should never forcibly submerge any child as this will cause discomfort and distress. Swimming should be a happy and positive experience for both parent and child.