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First article published in the February addition of Diver magazine 2020

How do you know if your child is ready to Scuba Dive?

As parents, we can assess the likes and dislikes of our children by just observing their behaviour and attitude towards activities they try or watch us do. Having a love for the ocean is for some innate while for others a slow burning appreciation. I can remember as a child watching David Attenborough’s underwater explorations and instantly thinking when can I be part of that world? However, each child is different so how can we, as parent divers, be sure that our children are ready to try it for themselves? Here are a few tips from #Scuba4Families.

1) Showing real interest in Diving

If your child asks you constantly about what’s it like to breathe underwater and is enthusiastic about marine life, then it’s likely they are ready to take the next step. Each child is different and develops at varying rates both mentally and physically. A motivated child will be more attentive to the training required of them to learn to scuba dive. The interest has to come from the child and not from parental pressure to dive. Diving organisations agree on the minimum age of ten before allowing children to become certified. There are however opportunities from the age of eight for children to discover Scuba at their local dive club swimming pool.

2) Being comfortable in the water

Is your child a reasonable swimmer and enjoys being in the water? Fear of water can develop from a bad swimming experience, or simply a fear of a new and different environment (the aquatic environment). Being comfortable in all types of water (fresh and sea water), is key for any child wanting to scuba dive. Can they submerge themselves completely in the sea, and are they confident around marine life? Can they open their eyes underwater without panicking? Parents are in the best position to assess the level of confidence their child has while in the water.

3) Developmental level of your child

Physical/Physiological Development

Young adolescents experience rapid growth in their physical and physiological development between the ages of ten-thirteen. As diving involves the use of heavy equipment those children that mature early physically will find diving less challenging then those who don’t. Children less than twelve, can have difficulties equalising the middle ear pressure as the Eustachian tube (the auditory tube connecting the middle ear inwards) is often less developed. If it’s difficult for the child to equalise, it may well be better to wait a couple of years and try again.

Intellectual Development

Intellectual ability also varies in children in the level of cognitive maturity. Adolescents typically learn by doing and so must demonstrate that they have sufficient intellect to complete the scientific side to diving, being the theory. As parents we must ask ourselves does our child have the ability to solve problems, react to stress in a calm manner and apply sound judgement? If the answer is yes, then the child will be ready to dive.

Social-Emotional Development

Social-emotional development includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions and the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others. Diving for children can be an overwhelming experience. We must ask ourselves if they would feel comfortable telling an unfamiliar adult (instructor or divemaster) about any discomfort they felt. Or being confident enough to say that they do not understand the meaning of a topic in front of their peers. Being socially and emotionally self-assured is not evident in all children, and certainly helps when learning to scuba dive.

4) Give them an opportunity to do a try-dive and ask a professional diver their opinion

Allow your child to try a Discover Scuba Diver/ Seal Team or Bubble Maker program first before engaging in a junior open water certification course. Find a dive club that are children friendly and are motivated in working with young adolescents. The most enthusiastic person can be put off in an instance if their instructor is impatient. This is magnified tenfold when teaching children. They need to be able to remain calm while repeating the same message/skill multiple times and offer a nurturing and inspiring environment. Don’t be afraid to ask the dive club to give their opinion on, if your child is ready to take the next step. A good club will give an honest answer and not try to upsell the next course.

You Child Is Medically Fit to Dive

This is an obvious condition to state but sometimes overlooked by enthusiastic parents. If your child has had multiple ear infections as a child, or grommets, its likely they will find diving difficult. Children prone to chest infections may have sensitive lungs so always seek your doctor’s advice before registering your child for their first dive.

There are plenty of places to take your children diving in Europe in a safe environment. Personally, I would always start with warm water confined dive sites which offer an interesting experience and have the added benefit of on-site dining for the de-brief. Kids are simple, they want excitement, safety, warmth and food. Our top three warm watered confined diving sites with on-site restaurants are:

1) TODI – Beringen, Belgium

In total there are close to 2,500 fish that call TODI home. A gigantic waterproof basin measuring 10 meters (32 feet) deep and 36 meters (118 feet) in diameter. This basin, which was used in the past to wash the factory coal, holds roughly 6.5 million liters of water and is maintained at a temperature of 23°C. Divers can find close to 30 different species of freshwater fish sourced from exotic places like the Amazon, Malawi, and Malaysia. The fish swim, shelter and breed between life-like objects such as caves, tunnels, cars and even an underwater bar. The children love to swim amongst the fish and if you are lucky you can witness a feeding frenzy.

2) Nemo 33 – Brussels, Belgium

2.500.000 litres of pure, transparent water, constantly warmed to 33°C. Great place to take Children Scuba Diving, with 1.3m, 2.5m, 5m, 10m and 33m staged levels it provides ample space to train junior divers. There are underwater air caverns at 10m to pop up into and have a chat. With mandatory free diving/snorkelling at the beginning of each dive, this center caters for a fun filled family day.

3) Y-40® The Deep Joy – Padua, Italy

Overtaking Nemo as the deepest pool in the world, recognized by The Guinness® World Record book on June 5 2014. When it opened and became the first and only facility for divers with thermal water, at 33-34 degrees your children will certainly be warm and toasty. Children can participate in both Freediving and scuba diving and will enjoy watching people enter the long glass tunnel which is incorporated in the tank.

At Scuba4Families our motto is “A fun and safe underwater world for your children”. As long as you follow the straight-forward

considerations in this article there is nothing stopping your family from enjoying the underwater world together.

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