Toddlers learn by watching, playing, and following steps. So break down the process of holding your breath under water into simple steps. Diving reflex—breathing under water comes (almost) naturally It's helpful to know that children have a diving reflex. This reflex tends to encourage them t hold their breath automatically. Imagine, if you will, finding your head under the water for the first time in your life. The strangeness of that environment—and the fact that it is obviously not air—will encourage you not to try to breathe under there, right? That's an informal, but helpful way of thinking about it. Health benefits—belly breathing When toddlers learn to control their breath, they learn how their mouths and lungs and bellies work together to create their breath. They experience how breathing increases power and energy. Most importantly, they learn how controlled breathing helps them manage their feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress. So, let this be your first step. Lay out in with them—or even let them sit on top of you. Breathe deeply into your belly as they float up. Then hold your breath. Let it whoosh out—let them come tumbling down. Repeat. Then have them lay by your side and try it with you. Big belly, squirrel cheeks Now you're in the water, floating and moving gently with your toddler. Hold them close so they can feel your belly expand as you breathe in deeply. Exaggerate your hold with squirrel cheeks. Connect the breathing in, to the expanded belly, to the squirrel cheeks—so they understand that you are filling your lungs with air—and that air is pushing out your belly. Release—Motorboat Showing the release is just as important as the hold, if not more so. So, start with a quick hold of 1-2-3, looking directly at your child as she follows along—or not—counting on your fingers. Then lower your mouth to the surface of the water and blow the air out making a sound like a motorboat. If your child, doesn't like the splashing this causes, just blow your air out with loose lips, again counting 1-2-3 on your fingers as you do so. Control—in and out Emphasize that you can control both how you take air in and how you let air out. Avoid "gasping" or gulping air. Instead, take deep breaths through your nose, touching your nose to show where it is going in. Emphasize your control during the release with the motorboat noise—or by making up any game that you and your child enjoy. Snort like a pig, sneak like an alligator Gradually, move the release from your mouth to your nose and from the air to the surface and even slightly below the water. Snort like a pig to emphasize that you are blowing air out of your nose to release it. Many children will not be able to blow out through their nose; however, in making the effort they often can more control over the release through the mouth. Sneak like an alligator with only your eyes above the surface as you release your air by blowing bubbles into the water. Big belly, squirrel cheeks—again As much as possible, you want this sequence to be performed exactly as you did it above the water—with one exception. You will go under the water, first by yourself, then with your child. Go deep, stay long Resist the temptation to stay at the surface. Instead, choose a spot in the pool that when you sit down and go under, both you and your child end up well below the surface. You want to give them the experience of full submersion. Count on your fingers 1-2-3 as you hold. Then lift them back up to the surface and follow them up. The 3-count is not a full three seconds, but it's not rushed either. It's not a quick dip. It's long. Long enough for them to really take in the experience of being under the water. Wipe face, have talk, repeat Wipe your face when you surface and ask them about the experience. Ask specific concrete questions. Did you get water in your mouth? Did you open your eyes? How did it feel? Was it scary? Was it fun? Tell them that we practice going under the water so we will know what to do if it happens by accident. It's important to repeat to help them process the intense influx of new sensations. Fears and tears Many, many children experience fear going under the water. Try not to expect it, but try to be ready for it. Never rush them along into an experience that they are not ready for. However, resistance does necessarily mean that they aren't ready. Talk openly and directly with your instructor to help you make a determination. When you work with your child, don't impede his upset. Embrace and congratulate him with a big hug. Let him calm down, then ask specific questions. Was it fun? Was it scary? Just as in adults, these feelings are not mutually exclusive. Okay or too much I have a few "rules of thumb" I use when trying to make a determination was it upsetting but "okay" or is it really "too much." How quickly does the child recover from her upset? Does she stay in the pool? Is the pool still a fun place for her to play? If the upset continues or the child leaves the pool and refuses to return, the underwater experience was too much.
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