How to Control Your Kids at the Public Swimming Pool

Observations from Under the Fatherhood - Parenting and child-rearing observations and tips

Whether or not you believe in evolution, it's hard not to take a two-year-old to a pool - in this case, a pool dedicated, in part, to the amusement of very young children and their parents - and not start hallucinating that you're watching a scene from "Gorillas in the Mist". Children's behavior, and their parents inability and/or unwillingness to control that behavior, is often abysmal.

What's a responsible parent to do?

Parents need to learn how to control their children in all public places, including the public swimming pool. Parents who are unwilling to discipline children who behave so poorly that it ruins other people's enjoyment are effectively relinquishing their parental responsibilities. Contrary to some opinion, there are actually rules about public etiquette and parents do have a responsibility to pay attention and make sure their children are behaving well.

Courtesy of winnond
Courtesy of winnond | Source

Public Etiquette at the Public Pool

Public etiquette and parental responsibility aside, the public pool does sometimes seem like watching jungle animals.

Most of the responsible parents linger close to their children, watching them closely to make sure they don't do something odd like drink the pool water or drown. The parents scratch themselves occasionally and when their kid's nose begins to run, they saunter over and wipe it off with their hand and rinse the hand in the water (okay, maybe that's just me).

When the pool becomes crowded, the parents and their kids navigate between each other carefully - sometimes not - with a cautious eye out to watch that their own child doesn't get kicked in the head by some careless passerby. If one parent knows another parent, they will move closer together and chat, yet still keep that eye on their kid. Sometimes they won't keep the eye on their kid. When another adult shows up, everyone seems to figure that somebody must be watching the children, yet it's not always the case. They assume the group will take care of it.

Depending on the number of kids a single parent may be in charge of watching, that parent clearly loses control when the number of kids exceeds the number of arms. I've concluded that it is nothing short of cruel to expect an adult to watch three kids at one time and that, if you are a parent, you are also doing your environment a huge disservice by attempting it. Honestly, women are a bit better than this than men. It's pretty common to see some guy trying to corral three children and give up within seconds, realizing what a completely fruitless endeavor it is. After that, he just plays dumb and pretends those kids don't belong to him.

Control Those Children! (CC-BY 2.0)
Control Those Children! (CC-BY 2.0) | Source

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Parenting at the Swimming Pool

I'm not sure whether pool manners are genetic or nurtured, but there sure are a lot of parents who don't seem to give a rat's behind how their children behave in public.

The pool definitely separates good parents and bad parents, though I admit to withholding judgment somewhat given that I'm only in charge of a single two-year-old who can't really cause much trouble other than to scream at the top of his lungs. I suppose he could take an intentional dump in the pool too, but that seems unlikely. And I admit to encountering those moments at home where, once I sit down, I don't really care what Tyler does. He could beat the cat with a shovel and I might be unlikely to move because I finally got off my feet for a few seconds. So, I sometimes sympathize with those parents at the pool who are just watching their kids run roughshod over the entire area with that resigned look on their faces. After all, the water just isn't that deep in the places where their kids play.

There are two easily identifiable types of parents in this scenario - the ones who care how their kids behave and how their actions impact others, and those who don't. The ones who don't will go so far as to engage in disruptive activities with their children, like throwing balls all over the place and splashing about. It seems to me that when there are children ranging in ages from infants all the way through teenagers, parents might consider discussing some rules with their kids, like don't jump up and down when there are five 6-month-olds surrounding you at the end of the pool you're not supposed to be in anyway.

No doubt, the pool is a zoo. What makes it even more so are the glass walls on one end where observers can sit and take in the whole event. Given I visited the zoo recently and went to visit the gorillas myself, the parallels seem entirely unavoidable.

Etiquette Rules for Public Swimming Pools (with kids)

  • Actually watch your children - yes, this means you. If you have kids, you get to watch them. If they do something impolite to somebody else, you get to apologize for it. Get used to it.
  • Don't splash other people - keep your child under control. Remember, there are really little kids all around who don't know how to swim. Letting your kid cannonball them isn't nice.
  • Take your child to the bathroom - when your child has to go, the answer isn't "go ahead and pee in the pool. Nobody will notice." Okay, it's probably true nobody will notice, but that ain't right. And NEVER let them go #2.
  • Keep 'em quiet - they can be a little noisy, but letting them run around like banshees isn't acceptable.
  • No running - Pool areas are slippery. Unless you want your kid to get a concussion, tell them to walk.

Addendum

Oh, the prejudice of the one-child parent...

When I originally wrote this article, I had one, two-year-old. Now it's three-and-a-half years later or so and I have two kids: one is five-and-a-half and the other is three-years-old. They both like the water and have taken some swim lessons, though neither is swimming on his own. When I go to the pool now with both of them, I generally keep the younger child close while the older child roams about. I still keep an eye on him, but it's definitely hard to know what he's doing every second. Isn't that what lifeguards are for?

I really do keep an eye on him. He's well-behaved because that's what we expect from him and how we train him at home, but when I'm not right on him, his main problem is that he usually finds another kid and/or family and tries to adopt them sort of. I'm often having to tell him to leave people alone since he doesn't understand boundaries very well.

Still, I sympathize a little bit with parents who kind of throw up their hands.

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