by Nicky Colgate-Smith of Enjoy2Swim

When I look back at my early years as a child, one of the memories still etched in my mind was the dreaded Sunday night bath time. I am definitely showing my age now!

Upon reflection, I feel a bit of guilt for putting my Mother through this Sunday night drama. I’m sure my screams could be heard throughout the land as I tried to wriggle out and escape out of the bathroom just to stop having my hair washed, the dreaded soap and water in the eyes just made the experience that bit worse! I won’t even get started on having my hair combed with all the dreaded knots that’s another story!!

I’m sure mothers reading this may remember their own experiences and maybe are going through what can best be described as a bit of a ‘mare’ right now with their own children at bath time. Bath time can and probably is one of the most stressful times of the day for some households.  

It is a wonder to me sometimes with my bath time experience, that I ended becoming a swimming teacher with how I hated bath time, I now have made a successful career out of it which has spanned over 28 years! I’m not sure my mother believes it either!

One of the things I’m most proud of is the work I do with younger children, many of whom are toddler age who genuinely do not like getting their face wet and some of whom, have a real fear of the water. I have faced some real challenging lessons, I have witnessed lots of children who are so tearful and clinging to Mum, and I have encountered a few escape artists who like me all those years ago try to wriggle free from mum or dad and make that bid for freedom.

Once I have managed to coax a child to climb into the water there have been many times where it’s been easier to ask parents just to hide out of view (usually behind a pillar so they can still watch the lesson). I could then calm said child down and lessen the worry for everyone, and hopefully get the child to start enjoying the water. It can be really distressing for parents to see their child so upset and my heart always goes out to them. Its often follows that children who don’t want to swim, also hate bath times we will often sit together put strategies in place for bath time. Often if we can help a child to love bath time then coming swimming will also get easier over time. These are some of the tricks we use to help get children enjoying bath time.

I know not every parent will want their own paddling pool full of water all over the bathroom floor but filling the bath with all your child’s favourite bath toys is a great start. I have tried to be that ‘hip and happening’ teacher over the years, I have invested in all the fads from Buzz lightyear, Woody, Paw patrol and endless amounts of funky rubber ducks I’ve lost count. 

However, one of the toys I have found to be a really good source of help and have used a lot in my swimming lessons is a bubble machine! It’s been my go to toy when a child is feeling scared, it also a great sensory toy and creates calmness. A bubble machine is a fab new edition in any bathroom, as children love bubbles, they are in-expensive and great way to have fun.

As your child gets more comfortable with bubbles near their face, a great progression skill is to encourage them with support where needed, to start blowing bubbles in the bath, maybe have a bubble competition who can blow the biggest bubble and then pop it.

Slowly build these skills so that your child can then try to scoop up the water and slowly wash their faces with their hands; progressing to finally putting their face in the water and blowing bubbles. Go at your child’s pace and use lots of encouragement and praise and maybe the odd song or two.

The use of songs at bath time is a fab way to build confidence. I use songs such as “If you’re happy and you know it wash your face”, or “If you’re happy and you know it splash your hands / blow a bubble / splash your toes”, during all of which you are gaining the child’s trust. Before you know it, bath time might not be so bad after all. The hardest thing here is having a repertoire of suitable songs!. 

Watering cans are another good choice of bath toy as a child can practise washing their toys hair first and then progress to washing their own hair with a watering can, before switching on the shower. Again using lots of encouragement and praise will hopefully alleviate some of the fear and in time will help the child to feel more comfortable with water over their head and over their face and eyes.

These skills can then be backed up and transferred into the swimming lesson. I tend to keep to the same song for a particular skill such as washing hair and face so the child knows what’s coming and there is no big surprise which may unsettle them and make them lose confidence again.

I also ask parents to bring their child’s favourite bath toys to lessons which is great for familiarisation and a source of comfort so we can play with them and progress skills further.

I am not saying for one minute that all I have suggested will be an overnight success but I believe in time and with lots of patience, creativity and consistency around bath time really will make all the difference in your child’s view of what bath time is about.

In turn this will help support the work that swim teachers like myself are doing. Don’t give up or throw the towel in. You will reach a turning point, this is when all your hard work pays off.

This is what keeps me doing the job I love as when you take on a child who is fearful of the water and you see them blossom into a real water baby: it fills me with pride and happiness and the journey to get to this point was all worthwhile!

Nicky is a swimming instructor and founder of Enjoy2Swim, for more information about swimming lessons and helping children embrace the water, visit our Enjoy2Swim listing.

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