Controversial 'self-save' video shows baby girl struggling in pool as her mom looks on

By Petrus Malherbe
12 May 2016

The little girl's mother decided to teach her daughter to swim like this because her son drowned when he was two years old.

The baby girl in the yellow dress is sitting on a step in die swimming pool, knee-deep in the water.

She looks confused, until an adult hand focuses her attention on a green flip-flop floating in front of her. She leans over, reaches for the flip-flop – and suddenly loses her balances and falls head-first into the water.

Little Julia, believed to be over just over six months old, is face down in the water, but only for an instant. She turns onto her back, and starts desperately flapping her hands and feet in an effort to keep her head above water.

Even though she seems to be struggling, groaning with effort, none of the adults are helping her.

This video, taken at a swimming school in America, caused a buzz recently and has been watched more than a million times the past week. It has unleashed a debate about teaching young babies how to stay afloat, should they happen to fall into the pool.

Read more: When should you teach your kids to swim?

Keri Morrison, Julia’s mother, has told Fox News she decided to teach her daughter to swim like this because her son, Jake, drowned when he was two years old.

According to MailOnline Julia is 13 months old, but in the video one can hear the swimming instructor say: “Not bad for a baby of six and a half months.”

But many parents feel this method of teaching a baby to swim is far too traumatic, even though it can save a life. The method is known as Infant Swimming Resource (ISR), says Enid Whelan, a swimming instructor who’s been teaching children to swim for more than three decades. Enid, who lives in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, now trains other swimming instructors.

She says ISR can be effective, but is not without its faults. “It is definitely very traumatic for the child,” she says.

Eliana Botha, an ex-colleague of Enid’s who owns a swimming school in Centurion, tells YOU, “I absolutely do not support it."

Read more: Brave 12-year-old with Down Syndrome saves little sister from drowning

Eliana adds that ISR focuses on teaching children to float, rather than swim. She admits it can save their life if they happen to fall into a pool. “But for how long can they float? Fifteen minutes at most, before they need to have been found and saved.”

She reckons children should rather be taught a love of water and how to get out of the water by themselves if they do happen to fall in. But teaching them this takes longer, and many parents would prefer the reassurance that their child will not drown if they fall into the water, she admits.

There is one – possibly permanent – downside to ISR: Those who have undergone it may forever have a fear of water.

“I have spoken to many adults who underwent it as toddlers,” says Enid, “and many to this day have a fear of water.” She adds that ISR is not a pleasant experience for the trainer either. “It’s not nice to see how the children sink and swallow water.”

Apart from the trauma, there are other negative consequences which parents may not be aware of. “The child might swallow more water than you realize and could get water in the lungs. Or it could lead to water poisoning,” she cautions.

The method is also not foolproof. “When I started teaching swimming lessons 30 years ago, a baby sank right to the bottom of the pool,” Enid says. “There was too little oxygen in his lungs. It was horrifying.”

But she admits that not all children respond the same way to all the different teaching methods. It is important for a child, even at only six months old, to know how to react when they’re in the water. Still, she can’t recommend ISR with a clear conscience, she says.

Read more: Four-year-old girl drowns in mom’s bath while ‘reaching for her toy ducks’

“Parents should decide for themselves. All we can really do is caution them that it can be very traumatic, but we understand that parents want to prevent their child from drowning. However, they have to consider the psychological effects of the method.”

What is the alternative?

“Our approach to swimming lessons is a caring one,” Eliana says. They prefer to make children more water-conscious, she explains. The parents are in the pool with their children the whole time, holding them tenderly.

“At 18 months I remove the parents from the pool and work with the children alone,” she explains.

Yes, she admits, this method might take longer. “But parents need to remember: There are not quick fixes.”

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