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"Is it normal that… my 4yo can’t swim as well as the 2yos?"

I can’t help but compare him to the other kids.

We asked Dr Jennifer Smith, child psychologist and development expert to help us answer this one.

She writes… 

The good news is that your son’s probably doing just fine. And, it’s often not a good idea to compare pre-schoolers. While children follow a similar developmental path in general, they also learn different things at different rates.  It’s a case of different strokes for different folks.

You’re on the right track with your timing, though. One good study showed that four years is the best age to teach children to learn to swim. Before then, they seldom have the required confidence and motor co-ordination abilities.

So, what’s up with your son? Well, he may simply be distracted by his lack of confidence – the type who’s a little backward in coming forward with new experiences. For some four year olds, learning to swim is the equivalent of a Bondi to Manly ocean swim in arm-bands.

"For some four year olds, learning to swim is the equivalent of a Bondi to Manly ocean swim in arm-bands."

Or, he might not have developed the required motor-coordination skills. When you’re four years old, it’s not that easy to defy gravity, move your arms and legs in different directions, keep your mouth shut and your head above water, all at the same time.

Or, he could be a daydreamer. Say, an Octonaut rescuing the screaming toddler on the far side of the pool. In other words, if your son is confident and co-ordinated, the problem might be his lack of focused attention. The whole learning to swim gig may not interest him because, like many his age, he may be distracted in this new, watery playground.

To focus his attention on the lessons, you son must consciously put the more captivating distractions on hold (fun, ocean swim, Octonaut), and sustain his attention on the teacher. He also has to integrate the instructions with the swimming task. It’s no mean feat, and - for what? In his mind, none of this is important.

"There is some preliminary research to show that swimming lessons reduce the rate of drowning in one to four year olds."

In any event, he’ll get there, and ultimately, that’s probably your only concern.  Five year olds are much better at selectively focusing and sustaining their attention than four year olds.

So, I suggest that you only stop the lessons if he’s not enjoying them, and don’t stop if he is. There is some preliminary research to show that swimming lessons reduce the rate of drowning in one to four year olds. But, the emphasis must still always be on close supervision and safety around water. Swimming lessons won’t drown-proof your son, but, for him, they’re a good stroke in the right direction.

Does your child do swimming lessons? At what age did they start?

If you have a question that you would like answered, please email [email protected] with Is It Normal? in the subject field. You will be contacted before publication, and your identity will be protected.

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