Kids hate sunscreen, cold water? Olympian Dara Torres helps with pool problems

Christinne Muschi / Reuters
Dara Torres reacts after winning the women's 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska on July 4, 2008.

OK, so, Dara Torres is kind of amazing. She’s competed in five Olympic Games. She’s won 12 Olympic medals. She’s a bestselling author. And she’s a mom — a normal, down-to-earth mom who, just like any parent, had to figure out ways to help her little girl enjoy splashing and playing in a big, scary pool.

Torres’ daughter Tessa, now 9, loves swimming these days, but in the beginning her mom needed to mastermind clever ways to help Tessa agree to wear sunscreen, put her face in the water and adjust to sometimes-chilly pool temperatures. If you’re struggling with similar issues this summer, check out Torres’ tips to keep swimming fun and safe for young kids.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Dara Torres holds her daughter, Tessa, on the medal stand after winning the women's 50-meter freestyle final on July 9, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Pool problem 1: I hate sunscreen!

Torres’ take: “With my daughter, sometimes I’d say, ‘I’ll put some on you and you put some on me,’ so that way we’re both doing it together — it’s not just me putting stuff on her and her not liking it. As far as sunscreen on the body goes, I’d try a spray. Kids like spraying for some reason. It’s a cool sensation.”

Pool problem 2: I’m not putting my face in the water! WAAAAAA!

Torres’ take: “When my daughter was really little, she loved blowing bubbles. When she’d take a bath, she wouldn’t put her face all the way in, but she’d blow bubbles in the water and that was great. It teaches them a little bit about how to blow out when they go under water, and it helps them get used to that idea. ...

“Another thing I did at the pool was have my daughter use goggles. Some of the kids are really scared to put their face in the water, and I understand that. I mean, when you’re on land, you’re able to see everything clearly, but then you put your face in the pool and it’s a big mess. But with goggles, it becomes, ‘Ooooh! I want to do this because I can see now!’”

Nick Laham / Getty Images
Dara Torres holds her daughter, Tessa, and laughs before receiving a medal on Aug. 4, 2007 in Indianapolis.

Pool problem 3: I want to go in the pool with YOU, not some strange swimming instructor!

Torres’ take: “I totally get this — kids see their parents on the deck and they just want to go to them and not be in this stranger’s arms. When my daughter was first starting, I did ‘Mommy and Me’ classes with her so she could be in the water with me. They would do fun little songs like ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and splash around, so it was fun — you don’t want to make it all work with kids. It’s important to keep it pleasant.

“Later on, my daughter felt comfortable going with someone else. She’s a very outgoing kid and she likes outgoing and peppy people, so I was very lucky that I found an instructor that was just fun, you know? It was a great fit. It’s a scary thing for a kid to know that they’re going to be in water that’s deeper than they can stand, but the right instructor can make it fun and positive and keep it going.”

Timothy Clary / AFP
Yes, it's true: Even Dara Torres doesn't like cold pool water.

Pool problem 4: This water is too cold!

Torres’ take: “You know what? I don’t like getting in cold water, either. When I was younger, to jump in the pool every morning was just a nightmare for me because I didn’t like cold water. For kids, I would use a rash-guard (long-sleeve swim) shirt. Whether it’s sunny or not, those shirts inflate you a little and they can make you a little more comfortable. You also can try going to an indoor pool until it warms up a bit more.”

Joshua Lott / Reuters
"I just want my daughter to be safe," Olympic swimmer Dara Torres said when discussing the importance of swim lessons for young children.

Pool problem 5: I’m scared of sinking!

Torres’ take: “That is scary! There are so many drownings each year. This is why I had my daughter in swim lessons every week. I didn’t want her to be on a competitive team — I just wanted her to be water safe, and she was water safe before she turned 3. The longer you wait, the harder it is for a kid to be confident in the water and want to get in there and swim.

“The first thing you teach a kid is how to swim to the wall. Make sure they can get themselves to the side of the pool. And make sure they know they’re not allowed to go in the pool without a parent present. Accidents happen, and I just want my daughter to be safe.”

Dara Torres, 48, lives in Dover, Massachusetts, and is a spokeswoman for SwimToday, which connects parents and kids with swim teams near them.

Follow writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+.