Myths about drowning

Summer weather, and everyone takes to the water to cool down. But beware! There’s a danger that you might not know about…

That danger is click-bait articles that give alarming misinformation about drowning and put people off teaching their children to swim. Opening with sentences like the one with which I began this post, they are designed to attract readers, often to the cost of quality and fact.

You may have read these articles. There’s one doing the rounds at the moment (from a notorious ‘fake news’ site) about a four-year-old who died “1 week after swimming”, and claims: “The boy’s lungs were filled with water and he had fallen victim to so-called dry drowning.” This is alarming: we take our children swimming, and most people don’t know the facts about drowning, dry, secondary or otherwise.

Drowning is a very real and very serious danger, that much is true. In the UK, around 60 children drown each summer, and it’s the second leading cause of death and injury in children, those aged one to four-years-old being the most vulnerable. The best defence against drowning is vigilance, but accidents can happen with even the most attentive parents. That is why knowledge and learning swimming and safety skills from as young as possible is so important.

The type of drowning of which most of us are aware is where, having been submerged for an extended period of time, the victim blacks out, reflexively tries to take a breath and inhales water. In some rare cases, the epiglottis which covers the wind pipe, doesn’t open, and the victim asphyxiates under water. This is sometimes called dry drowning (though not by medics) because the person has drowned under water without actually inhaling any.

If the victim was rescued during a drowning accident, they’d need to be monitored for 72 hours afterwards because there is a small chance they had inhaled water, and a small amount of fluid in the lungs can cause a pneumonia-like infection. But this only happens after a near-drowning accident, or where someone has panicked under the water. The key phrase here is ‘near-drowning accident’.

We all have a set of reflexes that protect our lungs. When water hits the back of our throats, the epiglottis closes, sealing shut the windpipe. Water in our throat, and the tube that connects the throat to the windpipe (the larynx), can trigger a cough reflex, where air is forced out of our lungs to clear away the water. That can also trigger the gag reflex and make us throw up, or, more often, the swallow reflex so we simply swallow the water into our stomachs.

In my eight years teaching swimming, I have seen so many children go under water and come up coughing and spluttering because these brilliant reflexes are doing their job. I try to stop myself using the phrase “the water went down the wrong way” because it’s not true; it can only go one of two ways – into their stomach or back out of the mouth or nose.

To enter the danger zone, they’d need to be under water for an extended period of time (how long depends on the individual and the situation). And they’d also need to either panic or pass out – in other words, the situation would have to be out of control. The wonderful thing about swimming lessons is that children learn water confidence, safety skills and swimming skills in a carefully controlled environment.

Babies have no sense of fear with water; having grown in it for nine months, they have an innate affinity with it. The reflexes I talked about earlier are even stronger in babies. By introducing young babies to water, including gentle, controlled submersions, those innate reflexes can become learned behaviour. From a water safety point of view, not just teaching safety skills like turning and holding on to the side, but guarding against panic by making sure they’re always confident and comfortable in water.

I taught a boy called Sam who fell into a pool on holiday when he was 15 months old. His mum was right next to him, but before she got to him, he had turned round and held on to the side. Another baby, George, slipped out of his dad’s hands in the bath, but he calmly righted himself and held on to the side, and he was only eight months old.

What worries me about the articles that spread worry among parents is that they might discourage people from teaching their children to swim. By the time they leave primary school, children should be able to swim 25 metres because if they can swim this distance, chances are they’re strong enough swimmers to get themselves out of trouble.

The Amateur Swimmers Association (ASA) says that one in three children will leave primary school unable to swim. That’s 200,000 children leaving UK schools this summer who would be in big trouble if they fell into deep water. That’s quite a scary statistic, and a much more realistic contribution towards drowning accidents than misinformed notions of secondary drowning.

So how can you protect your children? Be vigilant when it comes to children and water. Remember that it doesn’t take much time or much water for things to get serious. And teach your children to swim. Start in babyhood if you can, choose a swim school if you can, or just take them yourself and teach them confidence and water safety.

Find lessons near you on this website

Find out about baby swimming.

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Nice and Icy

With just over a week to go until the National Cold Water Swimming Championships, there’s time for one more chilly swim. Thanks to the recent cold snap, conditions at Clevedon’s Marine Lake have been perfect for training, with the water dropping as low as 2.5 degrees centigrade.

So what happens to your body at this temperature? And how best prepare yourself for swim in icy waters?

Standing lake-side, contemplating your icy dip, you are aware of how your body might respond. The cold shock response is first and most dramatic: gasping, hyperventilating as your skin cools; at the same time, your heart-rate shoots up as your arteries narrow. Then comes the numbness. As your body reserves the warm blood for your vital organs, your extremities become increasingly numb, heavy and useless. After half an hour or so, hypothermia becomes a risk – and remains so even after you get out, as your core temperature continues to drop.

Standing lake-side, you should be scared! If you don’t at least have butterflies, if not a full fight-or-flight feeling where you have to beat all instincts to get yourself in the water, you don’t fully understand the risks. You also need to bear in mind that this is a time for dipping, not distance swimming.

No matter how often I take an icy dip, I have the same sense of foreboding as I drive to the lake, which peaks as the cold air hits my skin when I undress. Changing into my costume among seasoned winter swimmers, the chatter is all along the lines of: why are we doing this? we must be mad! I don’t really want to. Testament to this is the high level of faffing that postpones the inevitable plunge!

And then, one-by-one, we enter the water. The easiest way for me, is to walk quickly down the metal steps into the lake, taking small in-breaths, and then purposefully blowing out, long and steady. This reduces the gasping hypo ventilation, gives me something to focus on other than the pain of the ice-cold, and lets me steady my breath and stroke as I swim away.

Most impressive is Maggie, who having inhaled two cigarettes while changing, dives headlong in from the side. But then she, like so many of my fellow swimmers, is one of the South West Seals’ old pros. This approach is not recommended for the uninitiated!

For safety reasons, I rarely swim alone. If not with fellow swimmers, I get someone to stand on the side and hold my Dryrobe. Plus, I need help to pull down my swimming costume straps when I get out, as my numb hands are quite useless. It’s also good to have someone to egg you on, and share coffee and cake afterwards.

What struck me as odd as the water temperature dropped, was that I didn’t get the ice-cream headache at four degrees that troubled me at ten degrees. Instead, my fingers take the punishment. The pain that comes with vasoconstriction is palpable. My hands hurt. The first time this happened, they froze like useless claws in a position that’s not conducive to swimming. So I learned to set them in place as paddles before I became unable to move them.

At sub-five degrees, I swim between 100 and 200 metres; no more. That’s up to seven minutes in the water, including faffing a bit and stopping to appreciate where I am, and admire Clevedon’s rather lovely pier; and on a crisp, clear day, look across to Wales.

This weekend, as I entered I got an applause from some onlookers. I admit that I loved this, and it was the audience I needed to break into a fast front-crawl that I plan on swimming next weekend instead of my usual neck-breaking heads-up breaststroke.

My CWSC event is a 30 metre swim as part of a relay team: it’ll be over before I know it. I feel ready, though; nervous, but excited. Perhaps next time, I’ll do a bit more. But for now, I feel an extraordinary sense of accomplishment and pure buzz from swimming in icy water!

What’s in my kit bag?

My kit has evolved as the season’s gone on. Here are what I consider to be essentials for winter swimming:

  • Swimming hat – I use a normal silicone cap, but you can get neoprene for more heat-loss prevention
  • Mask goggles – I love the Aquasphere Vista mask that covers the bit between your eyebrows and seems to prevent ice-cream headache pain
  • A Dryrobe – this was a Christmas present, and my favourite bit of kit. It’s so warm, plus keeps you covered as you try to get dressed with numb hands
  • A piece of foam rubber, matting, old towel on which to stand while you’re changing
  • Warm layers – I don’t bother with undies, but wear merino wool leggings under fleece-lined jogging bottoms, a thermal vest, long-sleeved top and my wonderful Dart 10k sherpa fleeced-lined hoodie
  • Hat and gloves
  • Flask of coffee
  • Hot water bottle
  • Some cake or chocolate – getting that digestive system going warms you up from the inside!

Getting used…

“Getting used… getting used… getting used… got used!” is what we used to say as small children as we eased into my dad’s unrelentingly scorching bath water. It’s what I’ve heard myself mutter too as I get into cold water at the start of my winter swim adventure.

Winter swimming is catching on. Mainstream media broadcasts its benefits, like in this article in the Guardian, and the first episode of the BBC’s Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs which aired last month.

The benefits seem manifold. Boosting circulation, immunity and libido, as well as fighting off depression, thanks to a release of lovely endorphins. “One thing that encourages people to endure the pain is the accompanying cocktail of endorphins that arises in the brain, resulting in a lasting sense of euphoria and calm,” says the Guardian’s Jonathan Knott.

There have to be enduring benefits, or nobody would do it. Risking the cold shock response, hypothermia, and possible heart attack is one thing, but the certainty of numb extremities as your blood rushes to preserve your vital organs is quite another. You know it’s going to hurt.

Yet it’s a risk worth taking. The benefits of swimming in frozen rivers and plunging in icy pools have long been enjoyed across north and eastern Europe before it became hipster cool. The “epiphany swimmers” in Russia, and the Scandinavian sauna tradition, as well as traditional swims and plunges undertaken by pretty much everyone: the young, the old, men and women.

While the health and well-being benefits are difficult to prove scientifically, the anecdotal evidence is strong. What’s more, they’re benefits anyone can enjoy; unlike most extreme sports, anyone can take a cold dip. In fact women with a good layer of subcutaneous fat seem to make the best chilly swimmers.

That’s what makes me happy, at least. It’s November, and a cold one at that, and I’ve thus far got as low as half an hour at 10 degrees centigrade without my beloved wetsuit, so it seems that bit of extra timber I’m carrying has its uses. The cold shock response is evident for about a minute or two: that dramatic in-breath, followed by some mild hyperventilation. You want to be able to hold on to something or touch the bottom until this effect has subsided.

After that, it takes a few minutes and a few strokes, dipping in my face and grimacing at the dreaded ice-cream headache. And once that’s gone, you’ve got used! And oh, the bliss! Your skin prickles, and yes, your feet and hands gradually lose sensation. You feel slower and heavier, which is why you should never go alone, and always be aware of when your body tells you get out.

But nothing can make you feel more alive, in the moment and at peace with the world. Perhaps that right there is as big a part of the antidote for anxiety and depression as those wonderful endorphins. You feel strong too, and inordinately calm.

That feeling really does stay with you, and I find myself plotting my next ‘hit’. It’s part trying to make sure I stay acclimatised as the temperature drops further. part thrill-seeking addiction. I may make the Cold Water Swimming Championships with a silly hat, but that doesn’t really matter. For now, at least, I’m just enjoying the chill. How low can I go?!

Incidentally. The colour of my skin after a cold dip is much the same as it was after a hot bath. Only after a chilly swim, when I touch my skin, I can’t actually feel my touch, which is very disconcerting!

The big one! 10km swim

By heck, I did it! Face down, legs flutter kicking, arms pulling through murky water for 3 whole hours. So, what did it take to swim a marathon?

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The pros and cons of swimming a marathon

I have a lot of love for the Outdoor Swimming Society who organises the Dart 10k. It’s quite an event with something like 1200 swimmers over two days, organised to start and with a little festival at the end that offers a hug, a hot chocolate, a hot tub, Dart 10k Sherpa fleece hoodies to buy and snuggle in when you finish. So that joy you feel at finishing lifts to ecstasy by the time you’re warm, dry and fed.

I’m sure this is a cunning ploy to make you do it again. To eclipse the hours of your life you’ve given over to training, the raw patch on your neck where your wetsuit rubbed, the pounding headache you got from a too tight cap/too tight goggles/dehydration/exhaustion* (*circle all that apply).

But actually, those discomforts and challenges at least provide interest. Once eliminated, there’s not much to think about when you’re ploughing on. I’ve blogged before about swimming being mindful, and that is part of its joy for me; and I was listening to Radio 4 programme just this morning about how good it is to let your mind wander from time to time. But it’s hard to appreciate a mindful state of being for 3 hours.

The training is boring, there’s no two ways about it. I found having to complete a certain distance in a session cancelled out most of the joy I take from wild swimming . Finding the time and the grit to stick to a training schedule was probably the tougher than the swim itself.

The swim

We started at 9am on the Sunday; the leisurely wave. I should just point out that leisurely is a misnomer. Swimming 10km isn’t my idea of leisure, and when the medium wave started ploughing past us, it was clear that we were the slow and steady tortoises of the event. I might suggest this new name.

The current was good, helping us downstream (like running a marathon downhill with the wind behind you, as I told my brother), and the first feed station came quickly. I was surprised by the water’s saltiness, and that feed station with its jelly babies and Lucozade was a glorious beacon to which I clung for a bit longer than was decent.

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Feed stations: a beacon of loveliness

The next stretch got saltier still, and the previous day’s heavy run had washed in all kinds of leaves (some very prickly: holly?), debris and, judging by the smell and stomach upsets many of us had afterwards, cow poo.

The second feed station at 7.5km was soon there, and those of us clinging on expressed amazement that we were nearly done. Mistake. We’d been warned that the finish is always further than it seems, and it was. I wasn’t that tired; I felt great physically, like a machine, almost. But after another kilometre or so, I was mentally done. I wanted out.

At one point, I spotted a slipway ahead, and became convinced that my glances through misty goggles between breaths had spotted a crowd. But we still had the last big bend to go.

My fingers touched a gravelly river bed, and I thought I must be right at the back of the pack, and the tide was leaving me behind. It also occurred to me that I could get up and walk, so I steered myself to a deeper bit, and a quick glance round showed that I was still in the middle of the pack.

As corny as it sounds, I imagined my children watching for me to finish, and that gave me that final push. Actually, I imagined how cross my eldest son would be if I finished slowly! Eventually, at last, the finish was there.

Again?

Will I do it again? Perhaps. Not next year, but I will probably do it again at some point. I’ve compared endurance swimming with giving birth before, and I’m convinced that I’ve discovered a new similarity: with time, the negative side of the experience fades in your mind, and only the glory remains. Plus, the hug, the hot chocolate, the hot tub, the Sherpa fleece… They were like the baby; the lovely, warm, gift you get to take home.

 

Masters of birth… and swimming

It’s very hard to describe why physical experiences have such a lasting emotional impact. Possibly the most physical experience of all for many women is giving birth. So why is it important that a woman has control over how she gives birth? And how can mastering your body again help heal a bad experience?

Before I had babies, I believed the medical mantra that a healthy outcome for mother and child was paramount. By hook or by crook (often literally), both shall survive. But through experience and anecdotes of friends and family, I realised that a healthy outcome is much more than mother and child surviving birth; it’s a knife-edge, raw, critical mind-game that can break even the strongest woman.

It was April 2006, and Ellen was recounting to me her birth. We both had 6 week old babies. I was shell-shocked and dazed, but steady and happy; much how I thought we all must be feeling. But she was a mess. On the corner of a street, she crumbled, shaking, crying. A strong, positive, open woman, traumatised by her birth experience.

I looked down at her beautiful, healthy daughter asleep in her pram, and wondered how the manner of her arrival had such a profound effect? Yes, Ellen’d been critically ill, but she hadn’t died; they’d both survived; here she was 6 weeks later, outwardly showing no more scars than me. And yet she was destroyed.

It wasn’t until I started swimming that I began to realise how accomplishing something intensely physical is mentally empowering, because it helped chase away my demons. By that rationale, I understood how it is disempowering to lose mastery of your own physicality. I’ve blogged before about how replacing having babies with endurance exercise has been good for my mental health, and I’m still drawing parallels between giving birth and swimming.

It’s all about control. Not control in the control-freak sense of the word, and perhaps this is where there’s confusion in the maternal-control debate; but control in the sense that you have command of your body, rather than having things done to you.

Giving birth is such a base physical experience. It’s almost animal, in the way that reason can leave you as you tune in to and use the intense pain and energy of your body. That sounds a bit out there, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. When it goes right, it’s all about you and your body, and you finish holding your newborn in a state of euphoria that really has no comparison.

When it goes wrong, though, the medical team takes the reins, the pain becomes unbearable, even dangerous, and the woman is left at best with bonding difficulties, and at worst with post-traumatic stress, which was Ellen’s eventual diagnosis.

Making choices is key, even when things are going wrong. I could write pages on the many antenatal choices women can and can’t make, depending on who they are, where they live, who they talk to, but I won’t because there are many studies and campaigns out there already, not least by the NCT (National Childbirth Trust).

And there are choices during the birth itself. For example, during my medically-induced birth, I chose to have a portable heart-rate monitor so that I could choose my position rather than being stuck on my back. I knew to ask; it wasn’t offered, and I had to be a bit pushy. But my midwife assented, and it was a game-changing choice that affected my experience and perhaps the outcome of the birth, subsequent bonding with my baby and my mental health.

But words like choice and control are flimsy and ubiquitous. Women who use them as part of their maternity care dialogue are often dismissed as demanding or unrealistic. It’s also assumed that you’d choose to have the coveted natural birth experience, when of course drugs and c-sections can be equally valid choices.

An insanely stupid and irresponsible bit of journalism claimed that middle-class mothers were behind a rise in c-sections: “Some women do opt for a caesarean section because they can’t cope with the uncertainty,” said Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives. “They control the rest of their lives, but they can’t control labour.”

Quite apart from the fact that neonates are bigger than ever, mothers older, and many are, like, emergencies, some women choose to have a c-section for damn good reasons like they were traumatised and nearly died by attempting a ‘natural’ birth, and ended up having a c-section anyway.

For Ellen, it was the planned c-section birth of her second baby, the one she thought she’d never be able to face having, that helped undo the trauma of the first. Granted by a sympathetic consultant, it was, in her words, calm, peaceful and beautiful.

Anecdotally, it seems that one of the best therapies for women who’ve undergone traumatic physical experiences is to have a positive one. To use your body for good, to see how strong it can be, and prove that you can be the master of your own physicality. Others, like me, throw themselves into a sport or activity that demands a lot of our bodies.

I was interested to hear that one of Jimmy Saville’s victims has taken up open water swimming because she feels it has allowed her to take back mastery of her own body. I think that too has helped me understand how it takes a positive physical experience to help get over a negative one

All is not lost. Organisations like the Birth Trauma Association and Birth Crisis Network who seek to help women traumatised by their experiences, raise awareness and work to prevent it. Some NHS trusts also offer debriefs, though I’ve read the this vital service might be under threat by the Tory axe.

Nobody wants mothers and babies to die during childbirth. But it’s fast becoming clear that a positive experience of birth is just as important as a healthy outcome. 

Injury time

It’s sunny; it’s warming up; it should be time to get out my wetsuit. If only my arm weren’t in a sling… The big question when your injured is, is do I keep form (and sane) when I can’t go swimming?

I’ve been working out like a fiend. My first event on the season is on June 11th; a lovely starter swimming a mile around Windermere as part of the Great North Swim. Last year, I did it in 35 minutes with cramp in both calves. All year I’ve been training with the aim of getting sub-30 minutes. All year. Only thanks to a little wobble on my bike, I now have a fracture in my left elbow.

As I’ve blogged before, swimming is my time out, my escape as well as my exercise. It’s so important to me mentally and physically. So not only do I need to keep sane, I also want to be able to get round the lake in just under eight weeks’ time.

The answer for the exercise part is high impact interval training (HIIT). Following the principles of Jillian Michaels creator of the 30 Day Shred, I’ll be doing a 20 minute workout five days a week that comprise of three minutes strength, two minutes CV and one minute abs. The question is what exercises, and how can I keep my upper body strength?

Cardio and abs are easy; high knees, high feet, jogging on the spot, ropeless skipping, and at the gym static bike and cross trainer. I can also continue with ab curls, crunches, leg lifts and so on. Strength is trickier. Unable to push weights, the focus switches to lunges in all directions, squats, core rotation, some with a dumbell in my good hand to add resistance and keep my upper body strong.

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Squat walking: hardcore!

But trickier still is the mind game. With yoga and swimming on hold, and also being unable to drive or work, the chances of getting bored are very high. Walking has to be a good start. There’s more scope for a wandering mind than when focussing on your stroke while swimming; I’ve been walking since I was 12 months old, so I don’t have to think about form. But at least I’ll be out there in the world.

I’m also going to try meditation and maybe dig out my old sketch book. Perhaps by viewing this as an opportunity to try things I don’t do normally, I won’t lose the plot!

Of course the moment I can, I’ll be back in the pool and lake. Swimming is wonderful for rehabilitation after injury, and is recommended by physiotherapists. My trouble, I know, is that I’ll push it. Starting with water walking with gentle pulling, I’ll progress to a one-armed stroke, and then a gentle stroke.

I’ve been very lucky that my radial head fracture (a crack in the nobbly bit at the end of the radius that sits in the elbow) is stable, and that means it can be exercised as the pain allows. I hope that by June 11th, I’ll be strong enough for a gentle swim around Lake Windermere.

Armless 20 min HIIT Circuit*

  • Warm-up (2 mins)
    • 30 secs running on the spot
    • 30 secs high knees
    • 15 secs neck rolls
    • 15 secs shoulder rolls
    • 30 secs high knees
  • Set 1
    • Strength: 45 secs static squat with abdo twist, 45 secs side lunges – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs butt kicks, 30 secs jumping jacks – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs sit ups
  • Set 2
    • Strength: 45 secs lift left leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking, 45 secs lift right leg and raise dumbell with good arm, 45 secs squat walking.
    • Cardio: 30 secs high knees, 30 secs ropeless skipping – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs ankle taps (with good arm – lean towards you ankle on the other side)
  • Set 3
    • Strength: 45 secs lunge with good arm bicep curl, 45 secs step through lunge – repeat
    • Cardio: 30 secs grapevine with abdo twist, 30 secs lunge jump – repeat
    • Abs: 60 secs full crunch – lifting legs as you sit up.
  • Cool down and stretch

*I’m neither a medically trained physio nor a qualified trainer – please check with your medical practitioners before exercising.

 

Hold me!

Don’t rush it. Don’t wish it away. Don’t hurry it up. You hear these kind of phrases a lot when you have young children, mainly from old women whose glasses are distinctly rose-tinted. But they have a point when it comes to swimming.

With my older children, I measured their first lessons in the pool without me as progress. I watched from the side as they got in the pool with other small children and a teacher, and felt pleased with myself for taking this next big step. A bit like sleeping in a big bed by themselves, or taking themselves to the loo; it felt right.

But it was a mistake. My eldest, aged just three, and in expensive, private lessons where the teacher had just him and one another child, repeatedly nearly drowned himself, until the teacher told me he was ‘unteachable’. Well, dur, he’s three; he can’t be expected stay at the side for five minutes awaiting instructions.

My second was closer to four, and in council-led classes of eight other pre-schoolers. In a half-hour lesson, she ‘swam’ about four widths, suspended at the water’s surface by armbands that restricted the lovely pulling arms she’d mastered over the time she spent in the water with me in her Water Babies classes.

Now I’m a swimming teacher, I see it again and again. Strong, confident little swimmers who leave me and join mainstream classes and regress; struggling to follow instructions, limited by armbands, confidence and independence knocked.

Small children need to be held up by a parent. Not just physically having someone they love and trust to help them get the right body position and catch them when they jump in, but emotionally they are still so young, and only just starting to make their way in the world.

And why wish away that chance? Before long, they’ll be swimming on their own, and your time will be over. Yes, you may not exactly relish putting on your costume, but once in a pool with your baby, toddler or pre-school, there’s nothing more fun or satisfying than helping your own child learn to swim. The laughs, the skin-on-skin; it’s all immensely bonding.

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It aggrieves me that swim schools encourage classes for preschoolers and younger where the parent is absent. In my opinion, they do it for one reason alone: to make money. Rather than simply explain the many reasons why it’s better for small children to swim with their parents, they take their cash and let the children flounder.

Having a parent with them means learning far more than just swimming. Water is an incredible, sensory world that needs to be explored through singing, games, jumping, diving, splashing, playing. Just as you wouldn’t expect a three or four-year-old to sit at a desk and study all day, nor would expect them to swim width after width. Children learn through play, and that applies to swimming too.

Just as you read with your baby to give them early communication and pre-reading skills, exploring water together gives them important pre-swimming skills. At the stage, before they’re four or five-years-old, it’s about learning buoyancy, balance and streamlining.

It’s a question of safety too. Children should be supervised on a one-to-one basis. That supervision cannot and should never be substituted by flotation devices! Arm-bands are awful; giving a false sense of buoyancy, restricting arm movement, not allowing children to learn a good swimming position. That false sense of buoyancy is deadly: how can children be expected to learn how to kick up to the water’s surface, turn around and hold on? It’s unlikely they’d have on their armbands if they fell into the garden pond.

I’m still in the water with my third child, who’s just over four. That boy can jump, dive, swim on his front and back and enjoys nothing more than fetching sinkers from the bottom of the pool. He has the distinct advantage over his older siblings that I’m now a swimming teacher, and I can recognise that joining lessons where he swaps me for a piece of foam would be a disaster.

So what should you do? If you can find a swim school where you get in with your child, then go for it. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is take them yourself. It doesn’t matter what you do in the water, but avoid arm-bands and let them play and explore on their own terms. Remember that children learn through play, imitation and encouragement, and that they respond to you better than anyone else.