Dunking A Child In A Pool To Teach Them To Swim Happens On 'Big Little Lies,' But Is It Actually Effective? Experts Explain
The importance of learning how to swim cannot be understated, but what about the theory of dunking a child underwater to swim, as we saw in a flashback to Bonnie's childhood last night on Big Little Lies? The presence of Bonnie's mother, Elizabeth, is bringing back all sorts of memories from her childhood, and not all of them are pleasant. In this particular flashback, she and her mother are in a pool, and it appears Elizabeth is trying to teach a young Bonnie how to swim. Elizabeth says, "You have to be able to hold your breath, baby. We have to hold our heads underwater so that if something happens we don’t drown, baby." A young Bonnie is visibly upset and as she protests, her mother forcefully dunks her head into the water. The scene, both scary and disturbing, immediately had me thinking A) is this season finale foreshadowing? and B) is dunking a child underwater actually common practice when learning how to swim?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in five drowning deaths involve children 14 and younger, and "for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries." On top of that, 80 percent of child drownings happen in front of parents, Rowdy Gaines, Olympic gold medalist and ambassador for the USA Swimming Foundation, told Business Insider. Thus, effectively learning how to swim is vitally important for children, especially during the summer months when proximity to bodies of water is greater. The key word is effectively, however; does the practice of dunking help or hurt a child learning to swim, and does their age matter when it takes place?
In an interview with Romper, Shawn M. Slevin of The Swim Strong Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides water safety education, writes, "I think of 'dunking' as a surprise whereby the person is pushed under the water and that push could be sustained into a hold under water. Naturally, if the student doesn’t have enough breath they would panic, and that could lead to a bad outcome. Swim Strong does not do this, nor would we advise the practice."
In terms of safely learning how to submerge, he adds, "We train that skill in several steps, starting with getting comfortable with face in the water. We inhale air through the mouth and exhale by blowing bubbles out the nose. We also want the student's eyes open so they can see what’s around them. We will play flashing fingers and other counting games to check that they can see and are starting to regulate their breath over time. We might introduce some sinking toys and ask the student to 'catch' them before they get out of reach. Eventually, the student will be comfortable retrieving a toy from the bottom of a 3 to 4-foot pool. Also important in this process is learning how to use the floor to push up to the surface to get your air."
James Reiser, "The Swim Professor," at Swim Lessons University, agrees that the child must be comfortable with their face in the water first and foremost before being submerged. In a post for Live About Dot Com, he wrote, "Put the infant or toddler in a horizontal position with his or her face out of the water, and then after giving the '1, 2, 3, breath' signal, softly and gently put the face in the water. The head should be in an 'in-line' position with some part of the back of the head out of the water." He stresses using common sense and listening to your instincts. If the baby gets tense, starts to cough, whimper, or cry, he is not ready to be dipped underwater. On the other hand, he noted, "if the baby is relaxed, putting his or her own head down because he or she is ready to go, or even smiling — common sense should tell you that it's OK to begin the facial immersion."
Swimming lessons may be a hit with your child, or the whole process may be torturous. It partially depends on your child's temperament, in my opinion, but it also has a lot to do with the swimming instructor. Know that there are ways for your child to gain breath control with their face in the water that have nothing to do with dunking, and watch out for that when kids are playing around in the pool, too (even the shallow end).
Be safe this summer! And anyone have theories about what else happened in Bonnie's past?