How does the concept of social referencing impact swimming pool lessons? Well, babies learn to read their parents tone of voice, facial expression and body language to help them determine how they will react to new situations.
Examples of social referencing:
- Baby looks at mum before he or she picks up a new toy
- If Mum gives a fearful expression as the baby goes to touch something then the baby is less likely to touch
- If Mum has an excited or approving face then the baby is more likely to try something
Therefore if the parent or caregiver is fearful of the swimming pool, this will impact heavily on the child. Using positive verbal and non-verbal communication strategies will be essential when introducing your baby to the water and very helpful in teaching them water safety skills.
Social referencing will develop over the first 2 years of your child’s life. Babies between 10 to 13 months of age are consistently using social referencing to determine whether they will react positively or negatively to a situation. Older babies between 14 to 22 months of age still use social referencing but are more sophisticated in their analysis and can actually determine if the parent’s reaction is real or pretend.
For this reason, it is very important that you learn to relax when interacting with your baby in the pool. Spend lots of time during your initial interactions simply exploring how to hold your baby. Make sure you hold them softly and low in the water so that they can feel the floating sensation.
Parents are encouraged to:
- Make eye contact and smile
- Hold baby soft, sink down low in the water and let baby feel the buoyancy
- Talk to the baby and reassure them that all is well
- Explore all areas of the pool deep, shallow, pool edges and ramps so that you are both familiar
It is important that you also read your baby’s body language too. If your baby shows signs that they are tired, hungry or cold during the swimming lesson respond to their needs. Choose times of the day to swim when you know your child is happy, alert and ready to play.
Remember early swimming lessons will also form your child’s future attitudes, ideas and behaviours around swimming and water safety. Your job is to instil in children a love and respect for the water. For this reason, it is very important that parents model safe and appropriate behaviours when in or around water.
We want to teach the child to:
- Never swim alone
- Read and follow rules/signs around water
- Enter the water safely
- Swim with confidence
- Respond calmly in an emergency