The element of water represents emotions both in Western and Eastern philosophy and medicine. 

Emotions are very much an infant’s primary language for interacting with their surrounding environment.

“Infants’ unique tendency to experience and express particular emotions and the threshold for expressing those emotions is usually referred to as their temperament or characteristic emotionality.” 

Emotion and communication

With age, we begin to differentiate ourselves from others through our emotions; developing our sense of self and empathy for others. With the development of language skills, preschoolers begin to label emotions. They communicate them more succinctly and learn to regulate them as well. For as long as their environment allows that to happen!

At Aqua Sensory, we understand that emotions will show up naturally in water.  And by accepting this natural process, we are helping our children formulate their emotional intelligence and capacity in our Aquatic Classrooms. We see all behaviour as a means of communication. Then through our program and practices, we support both the parent and the child.

Children are very expressive in the way they display their emotions. You may hear the saying “children wear their hearts on their sleeves.” The Cannon-Bard theory of emotion states that stimulating events trigger feelings and physical reactions at the same time.

Emotional cues

In the pool, we notice cues in the water which show up physically as well as emotionally. Clenched fists, physical contractions and of course laughter or tears are part of the everyday language in the water.

We also notice, that our emotional capacity as adults is communicated through many dynamic ways, not just through the quality of our touch. Our tone of voice, physical gestures, capacity to maintain eye contact, and our facial expressions are hugely important in our emotional interactions with babies and children.

Parents can sometimes feel when their babies or children are expressing both negative and positive emotions. And we notice this in our classes. They worry their crying babies will disrupt the class or their angry child is an embarrassment. We also notice some teachers may feel uncomfortable when they are not fully equipped with the tools to respond to these emotions in a way that gives a positive or productive learning experience for all. 

As adults have we possibly gone to the other extreme of shutting down our emotions to survive an overwhelming lifestyle?

From an evolutionary perspective, showing emotions has been a sign of weakness. While in a digital age staring at a screen is likely to reduce our capacity for the physical expression of emotions. Our emotional ability develops through real physical and social interaction rather than emoticons.

Are flat screens creating flat faces?

There has been a lot of research around the ways newborns respond emotionally to their parent’s facial expressions. Only a few hours after birth, babies become adept at differentiating between their mother’s face and the faces of strangers. And within a matter of days, they will learn to discriminate between emotional facial expressions, like happy, sad, and surprised.

In baby and toddler swimming classes, interaction is up close and personal. Eye contact and, face to face holds and moves, make the aquatic classroom the ideal place to build healthy emotional bonds between parents and children. But also between children and their peers.

From our observations, we found the following to be true:

  • Faces we wear in the pool matter.
  • Babies whose parents showed a greater variety of facial expression enjoyed classes more.
  • Babies felt safer when parents showed more eye contact and were more present to their cues.
  • The more accepting we were of emotional reactions in the pool, the more accepted both parents and children felt.
  • The more we can address emotional language in the pool, the faster our swimmers could swim.

Later on this month, we’re going to be looking at the nature of emotions in Attachment Theory with our Aqua Sensory contributor, Sarah from Attune.

 And we’re also going to be sharing with you our own Aqua Sensory tips for building our emotional language in the pool so stay tuned.

If you want to read some more around this subject we recommend: