When I was a kid, I competed on sports teams, played trombone, and joined a science club. Throughout her childhood, my wife was a dancer, skilled pianist, and singer. When we got married, we agreed that we wanted to allow our future children to try any activity they wanted (within reason) and that we would never force them into any sport or hobby. There was, however, one major exception:
We both agreed that we would 100% force our children to take swim lessons.
Swimming is an Essential Life Skill
Swimming is a blast. It's recreation, it's a sport, but it's also a life skill. As a life skill, the ability to be confident in and around water has huge implications for personal safety. And let's be real: We're talking life and death here.
In today's world, it's pretty unlikely that a person (child or adult) can go their entire life and never encounter a body of water. And, if you haven’t already discovered, water is a total kid magnet. Just ask the man who fell into the pool full of sting rays at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium when he was a kid (yeah, that was me). If there’s water, some kid (perhaps your kid) is going to fall in it. The life skill of swimming may just be the thing that saves your child’s life.
Like with so many things in life, I feel that swimming skills fall into the category of “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” Just think about all the places your toddler might run across enough water to get into trouble: the neighbor’s pool, the local duck pond, a birthday party at the community water park, rivers, lakes, hot tubs, beaches, and yes, even the bathtub you forgot to drain. The list goes on. So unless you’ve got the ability to keep two eyes on your child at a time, all the time, the risk is substantial enough to warrant swim lessons. Even if it means forcing your kid.
Drowning is the #1 Cause of Death for Children under 5
To reinforce the point, I share a tragic incident of a very close friend. A few years ago, this friend was hosting a large family reunion with her children and grandchildren at her house. Sometime that evening, someone frantically announced that one of the grand-kids, a four year old girl, was missing. The entire family tore apart the house, and canvassed the neighborhood, for more than an hour searching for the child. It was my friend who eventually checked the bottom of the outdoor Jacuzzi to find her granddaughter had fallen in and drowned. The sad truth is that these stories are far too common.
What if my child isn’t interested in swim lessons?
The ability to be safe in and around water is an invaluable skill. Accordingly, it was one of the few things I was willing to force my kids to do. I owed it to them. Even when they cried and screamed, protested and whined (of which there was aplenty), I needed to enable them to keep themselves safe.
Rather than seeing swim lessons as similar to enrolling a kid in Little League (no offense, baseball) or some other recreational activity, consider that swim lessons are more akin to teaching your child to look both ways before he crosses the street. Even the most hands-off parent wouldn't say, "Oh, I'll teach him that if he's interested in it." Nope. They also wouldn’t say, “Well, I tried to teach him, but he just lost interest and I didn’t want to force him.” No way.
That kid is going to learn to look both ways whether he wants to or not. To my mind, swim lessons are no different. And if I had to pay someone to make sure my kids learned to look both ways, I’d sign up for those lessons too.
You Can’t Put a Price Tag on Learning a Life-Saving Skill
I’ve heard friends and other parents list litanies of excuses; “it costs too much, our schedule is too busy, my three year old is too young, I don’t want to fight my kid every day to go swimming,” etc. But none of those excuses hold up to the reality of how affordable, accessible, and invaluable swim lessons can be.
If you’re worried about cost, see if your community offers free water safety classes for children. Alternatively, find a neighbor or friend with some swimming skill who is willing to help get your kid some basics. Realize that it’s never too early (or too late) to start. If your schedule is busy, prioritize and make the time to help your kids develop this life-saving skill. You can’t put a price tag on that.
Yes, Sign Your Kids up For Swimming Lessons!
So yes, I absolutely force my kids to take swim lessons. And while I usually would never even remotely entertain the idea of telling you how to do your job as a parent, when it comes to kids taking swim lessons, I will: You should force your kids too.
My entire life has been spent in and around the water. Growing up in CA, I swam competitively for 15 years and played water polo when I wasn’t at the beach! I’ve spent eight years as a Red Cross life guard and seven years as a certified Water Safety Instructor teaching classes of all ages how to swim. Additionally, I’ve taught Guard Start, survival swimming courses, and directed multiple aquatic summer camps. I’ve coached swim teams of 200+ swimmers and worked as a private coach for individuals looking to improve their stroke technique. In my mind, there’s never a bad day for a swim!