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The recent deaths of four school children in Korat is ample reminder of the importance of teaching your child to swim.
A 14 year old out celebrating end of term exam success with ten friends got into difficulty in a lake and when two friends tried to save her they all drowned. It was a tragic event but hardly one that is unusual in Thailand or elsewhere in the world for that matter.
The 14 year old reportedly could not swim and unexpectedly found herself out of her depth.
A paper on child drowning for the Thai Ministry of Public Health that began online in 2014 shows an alarming situation that continues to this day. In SE Asia there are almost a quarter of the worldwide deaths from child drowning per year.
Well in excess of 100,000 children under 15 die worldwide each year.
In Thailand a ten year average put the number of deaths of under 15s at more than 1,200 per year or four per day.
The death rate is up to 15 times higher in the kingdom than in more developed countries.
Though dropping somewhat in recent years it is still the leading cause of death among children under 15 compared to fatalities from all infectious and non-infectious diseases.
Quite simply if children cannot swim it is an accident waiting to happen.
For most city dwellers – either Thai or expatriate – there are few excuses for not teaching your child to swim. While many may not be lucky to have their own pool or one in the condo or estate where they live there are many inexpensive public pools or even water parks.
For country people a trip into a town to teach your child is not too expensive a day out. And if impossible then surely a dip in a pond under adult supervision – followed by a clean water shower – is better than seeing your child on a slab in the morgue.
I have been lucky in always living in Bangkok near a swimming pool mostly at places where I have lived over the last 35 years or the schools where I have worked. I am not a very good swimmer and I was 14 before a friend taught me how to at a swimming baths in South London.
I never had the advantages of an upbringing in Thailand – the pools were horrible places, cold and full of verruca – or so I used to think. At school my swimming teacher – the cruel Mr Whale – let me walk in the shallow end while he concentrated on the swimming team members.
In Bangkok I have raised two adult children and am now in the process of bringing up a four year old and a ten month old baby.
One of my earliest recollection of fatherhood was taking my first daughter – now a cox on rowing teams in England – to swim. From the age of just four months she was submerged in the water and encouraged to enjoy being in the pool where we lived in Sukhumvit Road.
To me it seemed natural though the Thai wife was a bit skeptical at first. But as my daughter started to come up for air and float naturally she came round – the wife that is!
After all don’t children spend much of their formation in the womb in water of one kind or another?
It is second nature for a child not to inhale when in water and babies very quickly learn how to move along. In fact many people advocate hardly waiting at all before introducing babies into the water.
YouTube has a million videos to help if you feel the need for some guidance.
Both my children from my first marriage ended up swimming much better than me. I improved slightly but a whole lot in terms of knowing how to make the experience a good one for children.
My third daughter is now four and supremely confident in the water. She has been going into our condo pool almost every day since she was about four months old.
I didn’t teach her to swim – I was just there while she taught herself and I encouraged her in the various stages. I had taken the advice of an international swimming teacher friend who I respect greatly. He had just said enjoy the water and let the children grow into it – no lessons required.
I thought, he can have my daughter if and when her technique needs honing for competition. But I was glad to take his advice and not be “pushy” dad taking her for lessons, tuition that he thought was unnecessary and indeed would cost money I would rather not spend!
But many of the Thai parents that I see at the pool reveal quite a lot about attitudes towards swimming and young children among the Bangkokian population.
Firstly they all gush when they see my daughter swimming as if it is something amazing. I try to explain that it isn’t, we just come every day and enjoy ourselves. They seem skeptical, as my first wife had been, that she could swim on her own.
They seem shocked, in more recent days, that I let my ten month old daughter float unassisted in the water before she comes up for air. I can’t be sure but they look as though they think I am somehow doing something wrong.
But it is what I see them do and not do that is most revealing. And which can hardly be right.
Many of them do not get in the water with their children. They invest in water-wings and rubber rings, goggles and swimming suits but they then sit on the sidelines fully dressed.
Most of them glance up to make sure their kids are ok, then glance back down at their mobile phones in case they have missed something on Facebook, I imagine. Children who are five, six and seven are exhorted to stay in the baby pool because they can’t swim yet like my kid….
In fact I see a lot of Thai parents constantly shouting at their kids to do this or that in the water. What they are not shown is what to do by example.
We have rubber rings and various flotation devices but these are only for playing with after the kids have had free swimming in the water. After they have done everything unaided.
They are certainly not used as an alternative to getting in the water and helping your child swim under their own steam.
Doubtless these kind of parents will feel the need to invest in swimming lessons for their four, five and six year olds “when the time comes”. Sadly the time is already past when they could have easily been swimming like fish just from being introduced to the water from a young age.
Given the nature of the alarming statistics about child drowning it should be a priority for all parents to introduce their children to swimming.
Certainly not to let them go off on their own with their friends as they grow up without the ability to swim. For as any parent knows “kids will be kids”.
Parents should ensure that their children do not just become another terrible statistic. It is an area where good parenting in a fun activity can be easy to accomplish.
Children thus guided can develop a lifelong enjoyment in the water – and stay out of that morgue.