How NOT to Teach a Child to Swim!

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Today’s post is brutally honest. I hope, after reading this, you’ll understand my need to share our experience.

Did you ever make a parenting mistake so severe that it still makes you cry when you think about it? I made one such horrible mistake two weeks ago.

While living in Maine, we had very few opportunities to swim (the water never gets warm up there) but our new house in Florida has a pool and a canal in the backyard. Since Mason, who just turned five, can’t swim yet, that was our main concern when moving here. We signed him up for swimming lessons to start the day after our scheduled arrival but his experience with the Infant Swimming Resource / ISR / InfantSwim.com method of instruction was a NIGHTMARE.

The first lesson was fine. He was understandably nervous and he told her, before the lesson, that he didn’t want to put his face in the water. When she asked why, he said, “I don’t want to die.” She responded by assuring him that she would not let go of him. We believed her but Mason was shaking during the entire lesson (it was not cold at all) so perhaps he instinctively knew he couldn’t trust her.

During the second lesson, the instructor did indeed put him all the way under the water, leaving him to panic and flounder, kicking his feet and waving his arms wildly without support in a desperate attempt to get air. It appeared she did this to punish him for not putting his head back to float. And, she did it six times in a row! If he wouldn’t put his head back to float (and he was crying when she tried to force his head back), she would put him all the way under the water without warning and WITHOUT FIRST teaching him how to hold his breath, kick or paddle, and without even giving him the opportunity to take a breath first!

After watching videos online (which I wish I’d done before signing him up!), it appears this isn’t unusual for ISR. They immerse infants as well. Unlike the videos, Mason was not rolled over and pulled along in a swimming motion. He was dumped completely in the water, feet down, entirely immersed with no support, frantically waving his arms and kicking his legs to no avail. He was panicking from what I realized later was a simulated drowning and, when she pulled him up, he was crying and screaming. He has never screamed like that – ever! I should have known something was up when I read the instructor doesn’t allow videotaping of lessons. She even requires your child’s fingernails be clipped before their lessons. Maybe that’s because your child might be clawing at her for survival? WHY DID I NOT CONNECT THE DOTS?! I will never, ever stop kicking myself for being so stupid!

All the while, she was chatting, and calmly telling me he was “fine.” Each time she pulled him up, he screamed louder and, in the end, was holding his arms out toward me while screaming. I was shaking and sick to my stomach but I stupidly thought she knew what she was doing. The entire ordeal only lasted a couple of minutes but I will have to live with the guilt from my stupidity for the rest of my life.

Before you attack me for letting this happen (believe me, I’ve already attacked myself, and will continue to do so), please understand that we thought we were dealing with a professional. She said she could have him swimming in four weeks! Only after the few minutes of trauma, and him getting out of the pool, did I replay the terrifying events in my mind and realize she was punishing him for not floating by simulating drowning (6 times!!). Another woman posted a similar experience endured by her little boy HERE. Mason’s instructor was NOT teaching him how to swim. At no time did she ever broach the subject of holding one’s breath, kicking, padding – NOTHING! He was being punished for not putting his head back while floating – punished by withholding oxygen, and making him think he was drowning (dying).

I contacted the corporate office at ISR that night with my complaint and they insulted me by sending a pdf file (not surprisingly labeled “Not for Reproduction”) explaining why babies and toddlers cry (because they’re trying to “communicate their concerns” over this “new environment”). Yeah, they’re trying to communicate that THEY ARE DROWNING! A child who is forced under water instinctively reacts as if they are drowning! ISR’s literature even admits, “…we frequently see our students cry during the first few lessons…” The fact that they even have this pdf file available for complaining parents should be a huge red flag! In her email, the representative said crying was “normal and healthy.” Yeah, it IS NORMAL for children to cry when THEY CAN’T BREATHE AND THINK THEY’RE DROWNING! I sent back a scathing email, reminding them that Mason is five years old (not a baby or toddler), and telling them he’d never screamed like that before over anything – ever! I sent them many more choice words as well.

The pdf file even says, “Parental attitude is the single most influential factor in regard to crying.” What a load of you-know-what! A child (and even an adult!) who is repeatedly forced under water and deprived of oxygen is going to scream and cry even if the parent is not present! Ludicrous! Only after I threatened to contact the authorities and to post our experience online did they backtrack, saying they are “investigating this situation.”

But, again, based on the videos posted online, Mason’s experience with ISR doesn’t appear to be unusual at all.

Our four older children are all outstanding swimmers but NONE of them learned to swim like THIS!

This child is crying, saying, “I don’t want to go under water!” He then screams, “Help!” and later coughs and cries and cries. The instructor just keeps making him go under:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E-3GQccMBU

This poor infant screams the whole time:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfAyFm99AFM

This infants cries and cries and cries:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7rHICZA4d8

It doesn’t get better for every child. According to the post, the baby in the video below is in week 4 of lessons. Can you imagine forcing a child to endure this treatment 5 days a week for weeks on end?!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjuudaE5yoQ

This poor baby will break your heart:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2PWhwxv0QE

If I’d watched those videos two weeks ago, I’d have NEVER taken our child to that horrible place!

The next morning, I asked Mason if he wanted to swim in our pool and he looked terrified, and begged me, “Don’t make me go under!” Hearing that made me so sad and angry! He loved our new pool before his nightmare ISR lesson! Every time I replay in my mind what happened to him, I get physically sick to my stomach. I had nightmares the first two nights after it happened as well. Mason didn’t report any bad dreams but he did say repeatedly that he didn’t want to go back to that “mean lady” ever again.

Please learn from our mistake – NEVER PUT YOUR CHILD IN THE CLUTCHES OF ANYONE ASSOCIATED WITH INFANT SWIM RESOURCE / ISR / INFANTSWIM.COM! There are far gentler ways to teach a child to swim that don’t involve tears, screams, and a newfound fear of water.

We believe punishing a child by letting them flounder in a panic under water without oxygen is child abuse. And, yes, we have reported ISR to the federal government. I will have to live with the guilt from knowing I handed my child over to that horrible woman, believing she was a professional, and that she knew what was best for my child with regards to swimming. I was dead wrong.

I quickly found Mason a new swimming teacher who uses conventional methods. During his first lesson with her, she had him floating (with assistance), paddling, kicking, blowing bubbles and even jumping in! There were no tears at all but lots of smiles and laughter! He adores her!! During his second lesson, she had him voluntarily putting his whole face in the water. Now THAT is how you teach a child to swim! Best of all, they say he’ll likely be swimming by the 8th lesson, which will be next week.

In the meantime, we have piercing alarms installed on all the doors here and baby gates blocking the sliding glass doors leading to the pool. The pool fence is being installed this week along with a pool alarm that will sound whenever anything over 15 lbs. steps / falls into the pool. Of course, by the time those are installed, Mason will be swimming but we’ll feel better having these items in the event someone comes to visit with a young child.

Hugs to all,
Angela

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